web design

Sorry WordPress, DIY web design ain’t so simple

By January 22, 2014 No Comments

A few years back – I think it was around 2007 – I remember reading an article about the ‘Wordpress miracle’ and how the birth of WordPress’ content management system would mark the end of web design. The writer said this system was so amazing, so DIY, that us web designers would no longer be required. It had a sophisticated and vast library of free templates and widgets that you could compile into your own website in a matter of hours.

A dark cloud loomed over my head. What would happen to my beloved HTML, my challenging CSS and my most favouritest Adobe suite that I use to compile my clients’ websites? Was I supposed to forget about them – lock them in a cupboard never to be opened again?

Who needs web designers?

Most of all, what would happen to me? I felt like the end of an industry was coming. Web designers seemed like they were going to be consigned to the annals of media-past like print photography (remember that time when real life was in sepia, children in flat caps played with metal rings on cobbled streets and people took film to a print shop to get it developed? Well, that).

I felt like web design was drowning, but after fighting with these thoughts for a while I decided to face the devil and swim towards him.

My WordPress crisis turned into a private investigation. I started to take a closer look at all these ‘homemade’ websites made with WordPress or similar CMS platforms like Drupal or Joomla, which as the infographic below shows took a large share of the market in 2013.


I realised we were far from the end of an industry. Au contraire, it seemed that more support from us was needed. My brother, for example, was starting a business back then and he decided to work on the back-end of the website using one of these CMS platforms. After spending five years in Silicon Valley he was pretty confident he could create an amazing website. To be fair, he did. And then the phone rang…

“Anna, I need to ‘dress’ my website. Please can you design the front end so it’s unique and looks cool and engaging for my customers?”

Win, I thought to myself, web designers are needed. Time for my chicken dance.

A guide to DIY web design

I’m not saying you shouldn’t try your hand at DIY web design. I’d encourage it, in fact. Far from hindering the industry, I think it’ll help produce more and more talented web designers and diversify the field. But, if you want to do it yourself there are a few things about WordPress and the like you should bear in mind:

  • Be prepared to spend a lot of time and put in a lot of effort on maintaining and updating your website.
  • With thousands of templates available, it’s easy to assume you just whip out a website and leave it there to gracefully mature. But it’s not quite that simple, and you do need to know more than just the basics to be able to build and maintain it effectively.
  • Your website won’t be unique – these are shared, free template designs – so you have to be prepared to share your look.
  • Design templates tend not to be very flexible unless you know CSS and can amend them yourself.
  • There’s a certain level of contemporary design knowledge you should have to recognise a website that looks slick, sharp and modern, even more so when you take into account the technical aspect of being able to navigate it well.
  • The number of free plugins available is quite limited and might not necessarily fit your type of business or how you need to conduct yourself online.
  • Pages might display unwanted ads.
  • These templates don’t provide any assistance on the right way to handle social media, content marketing, SEO or promotion of the site. There are automated plugins for this, but having a working knowledge of the principles of these is nevertheless needed. Furthermore, in the world of content marketing and social media, trying to use an automated system to feign human interaction is a no-no.
  • WordPress and the like don’t provide any assistance on how to interpret website analytics, like monitoring traffic. Again, plugins are available, but you need to have some statistical nous to identify where your approaches to web design are and are not working.
  • You’re on your own. A CMS is an engine with many moving parts working in sync, so you will need to diagnose and solve every problem you come across. For some this might be a healthy challenge, for others it might be a waste of valuable time.

Head to Southerly for web design

If you need some support then we’d love to help you, it’s what we do.

Building your website using a CMS with pre-designed templates is usually the cheapest way to do it, but don’t be fooled. Make sure you have some support, because it can be a nightmare that costs you valuable time, money and some degree of mental health. At the very least there are many tutorials out there that can help you work on your website, depending on how much time you want to or can spend on it.

However, I would advise you work closely with a designer and/or content agency (we have both, just sayin’) who can tailor your support package exactly to your needs. They can take over certain elements of your web design leaving you to focus on the stuff you’re confident with, or take over completely.

Love your visuals, love you!

There are some really amazing templates with smart CSS that can make your website look trendy, but you will still need to add your own graphics, images and visuals that represent and project your business’ personality. Get your message across with strong, signature typography and visuals, for example. You need to personalise it in a way that your customers can recognise it’s ‘you’, as well as knowing that by making an effort with your website you are making every effort with their needs. It’s like meeting your in-laws for the first time looking like a scruff; how will they perceive this relationship is going? I said it in my previous blog about the benefits of great web design: first impressions last!

Don’t go for the ‘handshake picture’

There are millions of stock pictures to which you can get easy access for a relatively low cost. Though bear in mind that uncreative web design often falls into the ‘handshake picture’ trap, and you probably know what I mean by that because you’ve seen it so many times before online. You might think your picture choice inspires professionalism and confidence succinctly; to everyone else it’s contrived and clichéd. It’s the web design equivalent of buying flowers from a petrol station at 11pm on Valentine’s Day.

To look professional does not mean looking boring. Use a more conceptual style that fits your business. Here at Southerly we brainstorm the perfect concept that works with your business – it’s not just a picture, it’s an entire and all-encompassing look.

If you choose to go down the stock picture library road, be sure to have your creative hat on. Think conceptual and not literal.


Your website should breathe

Constant maintenance is crucial; your website is your shop. You wouldn’t leave the same products in your shop window for half a year, would you? Make sure you update and often, inform or tease your customers with new offers and services, and keep it modern – follow the new trends. New trends in design emerge all the time.

Now what?

So you’ve finally done it: you have a brand new and super-trendy website that you’ve invested, time, effort, money and hopefully not tears. It’s looking so good and you should be proud. Now you need to make sure you’re following a content marketing strategy and sharing your work using social media that fits your type of business.

If you need assistance building and designing your website we would be delighted to help or advise you, so drop us a line. Here’s a stunning cookery blog that we individually designed for Kate using a typical CMS platform and we’re very happy with the results. Most importantly, though, Kate is happy!

About Southerly

We are a creative content agency. We are storytellers.


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30 Stamford Street,


+44 (0)20 3397 4971



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