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What is bespoke web design? Custom v template websites

You want a website that is tailored to your business needs. But what does bespoke website design really mean? In this guide, we'll look at the facts, the benefits of bespoke web design and the difference between bespoke design and custom website templates and themes.

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Customised templates, bespoke themes, bespoke website design - they all sound like they're the same thing, right? A website that's made just for you.

But when it comes to "bespoke", you might find that different agencies have very different interpretations of what that actually means.

So how can you be sure that the website you've been quoted for will truly have a unique design? 

This guide will explain how you can be confident that you're getting exactly what you want, why it matters, and how to decide whether a bespoke design or a customised template is right for you.

What is a bespoke website

What is a bespoke website?

Bespoke websites are those that have been designed from the ground up, not using templates, customised themes or existing designs. In short, your bespoke website should be completely unique to you.

However, not everyone uses the same definition, and there are agencies that will offer "bespoke" or "custom" web design, without it being truly original.


Bespoke design, templates and custom themes

A common scenario is an agency that offers their clients customised templates. The term "custom" implies something unique, but what this can actually mean is that they will take an existing design, and customise it for you.

Sometimes that's as simple as putting your logo in the header  and changing to your brand colours. Sometimes it can include some layout changes and variation in the content, font styles and imagery. 

But at its heart, this is still a template website.

Another common term is a custom or bespoke theme.

A lot of the time this is just different terminology for the same situation - an off-the-shelf design with some changes made to it.

But occasionally this will mean that an agency essentially creates their own bespoke template to start with rather than using a pre-existing one. But then that theme is then recycled and customised for different clients.

So the original design was bespoke, but the version that you get will be an altered version of what everyone else has.

This is particularly common when an agency specialises in websites for a specific business type. The websites provided might be on a commonly used platform like Wordpress, but are also quite often put on a bespoke CMS system designed for the needs of that particular sector.

The difficulty with the terminology is that sometimes, a bespoke theme really is a custom made design. That's because if you're using a platform like Wordpress, then you're essentially creating an original theme for each individual client.

A good way to tell if someone's using an off-the-shelf or unique theme is to take a look at the source code.

Do a "Find" search for the term "themes", and take a look at what comes after it. Unique themes are typically named for the client - in this case Retail Experience Design.


If you're still not sure if this is off the shelf or custom, Google the theme's name - if it's a commercially available template, you'll see it in the listings.


To sum up, anything that starts with a template is NOT a bespoke website.

A custom, or bespoke theme might be a custom website, depending on the designers you're talking to.

But a truly bespoke website is always one that is designed from scratch, solely and entirely for you.


Custom web development and bespoke CMS

Of course it's not just website design that can be bespoke. Sometimes when people are talking about a "bespoke website" they're actually talking about how it's built and managed, rather than the visuals.

What is custom development?

Bespoke development, rather than design, usually refers to the features and functionality of a website. This could be a small thing, like a calculator that gives you an online quote, or it could be your entire content management system (CMS).

Small bits of custom development can be done even if you're using an open source platform - and can even be integrated into certain themes and templates. However, the more complex your needs, the less likely that you'll be able to integrate something unique into an off-the-shelf design.

That's why most open source platforms come with huge libraries of plugins that you can use to add features and functions. 

But while these may be customisable, they aren't bespoke, so if you need something to work in a particular way, you may find yourself struggling to find a plugin that will do the job.

That's why you'll find that most websites with complex functionality are built bespoke, and are supported with a custom CMS.

What is a bespoke CMS?

A custom CMS is one that has been created from scratch, rather than using a platform such as Shopify, Wordpress or Drupal.

These are built using coding languages such as Javascript, Python, SQL and PHP, and will be created by the developer or agency that you're working with.

A custom built CMS is usually the best option if your website or app uses complex or non-standard functionality, meaning that an off-the-shelf option is unlikely to be able to do the job for you.

The bonus of having a unique CMS is that you can make sure it works in exactly the way you want. The downside is that it can be much more difficult to find another developer or agency who can take it on for maintenance or extra work. So if you break ties with your current provider, you could run into issues.

Benefits of bespoke web design

Benefits of bespoke web design

So now you know what bespoke website design is, let's talk about why we think it's important.

The most obvious benefit is, of course, originality. If you decide not to go bespoke, then there's nothing to stop you from ending up with almost exactly the same website as a competitor down the road.

Blending in isn't a good strategy on the internet. If your website looks similar to everyone else's, you're going to struggle to get your audience to remember you.

Another key benefit of having a bespoke website is being able to plan out an intuitive user journey.

A really great website should always be designed around your content. Your website content is what provides users with all the messages and information they want to know, shapes your user journey, and is often the most important aspect of a project. 

So content should come first, and your design should be about showcasing that content in the best way possible.

This is very difficult with an off the shelf theme, because the design is already created. That means you'll need to work your content around the structure that's already there, rather than using content-led design.

When you're working with a template, there's always going to be restrictions on how you can construct your pages and layout. 

But with bespoke web development, you can start by planning out your content and user journeys, and create the user interface around that strategy.

Functionality is another area where a bespoke website can give you much greater flexibility to create the experience you want. However, here you might still find restrictions even if you're getting a bespoke design.

If your new website uses a content management system like WordPress or Drupal, or is going to be integrated with a 3rd party software, then you could still find it difficult to create bespoke functionality - especially when it needs to do something in a unique way.

That's because the plugins or services you may need to use to achieve the functionality you want may require the site to work in a specific way.

So if your project requires bespoke functionality, it's a good idea to work with a company that can build you what you need without needing to rely on platforms, plugins or off-the-shelf software.

How much does a bespoke website cost?

How much does a bespoke website cost?

One of the more difficult elements of custom website design is to understand how much they cost. In fact, it's complicated enough that we've written a whole article about website pricing and budgets.

First off, a bespoke website is always going to cost you more than a template. And so it should! 

With a template or an off-the-shelf theme, most of the design and development work is done already. The rest is simply customising it to your own brand and content.

But with bespoke websites there's a lot more work - and not just with the design and development either. 

A well-constructed project should start with content design to make sure your messaging, text and website structure is all set out before any design takes place. 

This step is absolutely crucial for your SEO setup, and even if you're handling this part of the project in-house, your agency will want to go through the structure with you to make sure that there's an appropriate user journey and to ensure everyone's on the same page.

The joy of having a bespoke website is that you can plan out everything properly, starting with your user personas, user journeys and content. Meaning that every element of the project is aligned with your goals for the website, and your customer's motivations too.

You won't find yourself trying to "fill in" predefined boxes that exist on a template for the sake of it.

That's why we think bespoke websites are often the best approach if you're looking to use your online presence as a way to improve your business, either through marketing, reputation management or direct sales.

And of course, that extra work requires extra investment, but one that's likely to be worth it if your website is going to be an asset to your organisation.

Custom web design vs template

Custom web design vs. templates

Bespoke websites aren't always the best choice for everyone. Sometimes a template website is all a company needs.

The three big reasons you might want to consider a template website over a bespoke design are: 

  • Time - templates require a lot less work, so they're much faster to get up and running. 
  • Money - if you've got a really restricted budget, a template design, off-the-shelf software or plugins can often keep the price down.
  • Simplicity - if you don't really need to generate more visitors or sales through your website, and it's just a case of having that box ticked for "online presence", then maybe a bespoke website isn't worth the investment to you. 

It's also worth mentioning that a templated website is always going to be better than a poor bespoke website. If you're low on budget, our advice is to work with a freelancer or small agency that create something template-based that's simple, and affordable.

But if you're expecting your website to be significant part of your digital marketing strategy, to bring you new customers, convert more visitors or lift your reputation, then you should really consider going bespoke.

Why you should choose custom web design services

At Edge of the Web we firmly believe that if your website is going to be an asset to your business, it needs to be bespoke.

With a bespoke website, you can make sure that your online presence is going to be driving towards your business goals, whether that's through reputation management, marketing or online sales and conversions.

A custom design website doesn't stop you from using an off-the-shelf CMS or 3rd party software integration. But it does open the door for you if you need bespoke features and functionality as well as unique, high quality web design.

So if you have a unique project and want to talk to an agency that loves to design bespoke websites, we would love to hear from you!

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Katie Austin

UX/UI Designer