Marbry Walker | Brand Design in Portland, Oregon

I'm Marbry Walker, a Portland-based designer specializing in brand design for solopreneurs. 

DIY design: the truth about templates

Templates are the answer?

Do you have a need to produce a number of fliers, factsheets, announcements, or other periodic communication on a regular basis? Do you have modest design skills? If so, templates might appear to be the answer.

Have you ever requested a designer create a template for you so you could customize your document in-house? Perhaps you even have InDesign and think it would be relatively simple to create new iterations. Or perhaps you wanted the template created in Word so that you or your staff or your trainees could all have access and update as needed.

Templates probably seem like a great option in these scenarios.

I don’t think so

I have contemplated banning template-making as a service for non-designers because I don’t think it’s a reliable method to create new work that looks as good as the template I created.


Even if I design an easy-to-use template for you, and even if I do it using InDesign or some other design-friendly program, even then you will still probably break the typography or design in some way. I’ve seen it over and over. Plan on it. Then decide if that’s acceptable. If it’s not, then a template is not a good use of your design dollars. It happens with Word and it happens with InDesign.

It turns out templates aren’t always easy to work with

I once created a template in Word for a client because they insisted that they needed to be able to update the content. I gave them my spiel about how it may not be the unicorns and rainbows sort of situation they were hoping for. Still they wanted the Word template. So I wrestled Word into submission (which is so cumbersome that when these requests happen I design the stuff using InDesign, and then just recreate my design in Word) and delivered the template. Guess who created all the subsequent factsheets? Me. Even though the template was in Word, the client had trouble with it.

In this situation the client was not terribly phased by the development, and was ultimately very happy with the project overall. However, I would’ve liked to bypass the process of using Word altogether.

And programs don’t design, people do

The client is not to blame. And using InDesign isn’t much better than Word for non-designers because I’ll tell you a secret: InDesign doesn’t actually do any of the design work or thinking—that’s all me. InDesign just sits there. It’s just a tool (a really good tool if you know how to use it). But your typography is not going to set itself: your headlines won’t automatically be kerned properly just because you typed something into a text box, leading won’t adjust itself, and your punctuation won’t hang itself either. Your photo boxes won’t automatically align…and on and on. Although InDesign makes this pretty easy to do, did you know you should be doing all this? Just about now you’re probably thinking that if you wanted to be a designer you would’ve gone to design school.

If you’re not trained to set type it’s just not going to look like a professional designer had a hand in it.

I want you to know this before you invest your cash in a template.

Is it bad for business?

I once created a template for a client’s long-running campaign. It was a really simple template, with very little copy and I did as much as I could to set it up so that they could easily update the template and it would still look good. A little while after completing the template I started seeing the client-generated iterations out in public. I quickly noticed that the typography had some issues and inconsistencies. When it came time to include the work in my portfolio I really struggled with whether or not to include it—it being a somewhat high-profile project that could bolster my portfolio, but associating myself with the iterations that didn’t equal my attention to detail I felt could be detrimental to my career. So at the moment it’s not in my portfolio.

I didn’t and don’t want anyone connecting my work to a version that’s not up to my standards. It’s not good for my business. And maybe it’s not good for your business either. It might not be as bad for your business as it is for mine but if we’re going to take the time and spend the money, shouldn’t we be aiming a bit higher?

A few ideas to consider

If you want to keep all your content looking smart consider these ideas:

Batch processing—You might think about creating a few documents via your designer template and having your designer “clean them up” all in one go before publishing. Doing most of the work yourself helps keep costs within your budget, and sending them in as a group is more efficient on my end which also translates into lower costs.

Value-based pricing—Let’s come up with a price list. You might find that creating new pieces on an as-needed basis is more affordable than you thought, and I guarantee you I’m much faster than you at laying out content. Plus, with a price list you can anticipate needs based on your content schedule and budget.