You’re Not Stuck in a Cookie Cutter Design!

on | 9 Comments

Design Blogging Terms We Can Probably Live WithoutYesterday I was looking at the services offered by Squarespace, a “fully hosted, completely managed environment for creating and maintaining your website.” Don’t worry, I’m not going to go off on a rant about how bad this kind of thing is for web developers.

I recognize that not everyone can afford to pay thousands of dollars to hire a designer and/or programmer to create a website for them. Squarespace offers quite a flexible service for website noobs and at a pretty reasonable monthly rate.

But I couldn’t help but laugh when I read the following paragraph on a page describing their services as offering total creative control:

The presentation of your site is independent of its content, allowing you to switch the style of your site without having to worry about your site “breaking”. With our theme designer, you can create new looks for your site with a few simple clicks. Every element of your site is clickable and yours to change in real-time right before your eyes. You’re no longer at the mercy of a web designer, you can do it yourself.

Now, after you read that, you can stop laughing, pick yourself up off the floor and let’s consider this point by point:

The presentation of your site is independent of its content

Um… no it’s not. At least it shouldn’t be, and no self-respecting web developer should ever promote that idea. I realize that they’re saying this in a strictly technical sense, referring to how the design can be changed and the content can stay the same. But that’s not a good thing to tell anyone building a website. The design and layout of a site should only be considered after a serious review of the content. If you can make major changes to your content without changing the design, then there’s something wrong with the design.

With our theme designer, you can create new looks for your site with a few simple clicks

Again, terrible advice that goes completely against the concept of branding and creating an atmosphere of trust and professionalism. And again, I realize that many of Squarespace’s customers are going to be non-techy bloggers and housewives and such — but they do promote their services to large businesses too. I hope those businesses know a little better than to utilize those features. Some services offer features that are passed off as advantages when in fact they are disadvantages.

The people that designed, developed, and structured the Squarespace website did a fantastic job. It’s a beautiful website that markets and brands their services very effectively. I notice, however, that their footer says “This site is completely powered by the Squarespace platform.” Does that mean that the marketing staff at Squarespace are permitted to “create new looks” for their website “with a few simple clicks”? Not a chance.

You’re no longer at the mercy of a web designer, you can do it yourself

Full control is great, right? So instead of getting a well-planned, professionally architected design, structure and layout, they get pretty much the equivalent of me trying to build my own house (keeping in mind that I don’t know how to build a house).

Your Thoughts?

What do you think? Are services like this any good in the long run? Are they bad for web designers? Or do clients who use these services eventually come crawling to us later anyhow, after their site fails?

Okay, so maybe I did go off on a rant…

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9 Responses

  1. Partly, but not really. People who use those services are not going to shell hundreds for a custom-built website, most of the time they don’t even need it. They won’t pay $50 for every time they want a new word add to their website. So let them play around with “the internet”. Honestly those website look nice, and I’d rather see those than websites made with tables in 2010 from “webmasters”.

  2. I have worked through one blog redesign with Squarespace and am currently working on another.

    I have to say, it is the biggest pain to get content to be where you want it to be. You end up having to use some absolute positioning, hackery in my opinion, or use JavaScript to place things like “most read articles” or a “contact form” in the footer.

    It’s really flexible for authors and publishing, but as a designer/developer, you feel pushed into a cookie cutter design.

  3. Ivan:

    I’ve just reviewed the practicality of their “total creative control” for a client who is currently hosted with them, and who wrestled with their templates for a few months, only to give up in total frustration.

    While these types of services probably have their place, the results their cookie cutter designs are able to produce certainly aren’t for professional people and business websites.

  4. Stu:

    It’s just a little rant, but that ok because it just happens to be one that I agree with and has become a pet peeve. I use an analogy with potential clients about these kinds of “website creation” sites as well as some CMS’s (Drupal and Joomla come to mind) in that I compare them to drive through “fast food” vs. my plush sit down (with great service) meal of filet mignon. I help them to understand that something like SquarSpace is like ordering off the dollar menu at McDonalds while I’m more like having a fine dining experience at Mortons. At that point, you hope to hell that they’ve been to Mortons because if they have (and they’re really looking for a professional site that can help grow their business) you’ll probably get the sale. Of course if they only eat at McDonalds then your in trouble, but for me it’s a way of weeding people out because my pricing is closer to Mortons than McDonalds. I mean if your really going to do this you have to make a living and you can’t really do it at $500.00 per site. I get more than that per page and manage to stay busy by convincing people that “you get what you pay for”. Most sensible business people know this is true because they’re trying to sell something too.

  5. Interesting article. In my experience, small business owners with a lot of extra time like to micro manage their sites and be “hands-on” – these owners are usually on a shoe-string budget, and often want to change content often. Template sites are great for these types of people, because their options are template A or Template B – until a business owner has seen first-hand how better design can generate more income, they often think that they can do-it-themselves just as well. That DIY attitude is what shapes great entrepreneurs… and the successful ones learn along the way that they need to outsource or hire people for the things that they are not experts in.

    To just have “something” online – templates work, and are perfect for some businesses. Not all businesses need a memorable online presence to be successful. (A local service oriented business with no local competition, for example.)

    But, if a business wants to stand out from competitors, and has a content-rich site and hopes that company brand and its values are reflected in its overall DESIGN – a template will never cut it. The generic look and feel (form) of templates will never have the finesse that a professionally designed site will have. If the business hopes to create brand loyalty and an emotional connection with their online customers, the only option is to hire someone that is versed in visual communications.

  6. Music:

    Why SquareSpace makes things like this so difficult is beyond me. I love SquareSpace, but adding the sharing buttons from different sites is more complicated than it should be

  7. Laura:

    I think a lot of small businesses like pressure washing, lawn care, massage therapy, etc. Will use services such as this. I’ve run into a few people like this. Before I started officially freelancing and to be honest most of these people just want to put a site up that has very little information.

    Eventually 1 or 2 come crawling to us and break down and will pay the big bucks. However for newbie business owners yea your going to find a lot of people using this kinda crap.

    If you think Squarespace is bad, I worked for a printing company and he had a website hosted through SignPresence. I won’t go into to much detail, Google ‘em and check out their website. The prices are outrageously high and they have like a set number of templates that all look like crap. You’ll be amazed. I feel so sorry for sign companies that are getting ripped off by those people.

  8. TTAR:

    for the individual who doesn’t have the funding to hire a designer/developer, I think this is a reasonable idea, although you could just use wordpress (for the bloggers out there) but for anyone wanting to use the web for anything serious, It is wise to hire someone who knows what they are doing, mainly for the professionalism..

  9. Lol. The worst part is that people are actually purchasing these things. There is a lack of honesty when it comes to “simple” solutions like these. But, the consumer should be smart enough to know that they are getting cookie cutter websites in which they will be limited. I have to admit though, the site itself is well styled.

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