I got this particular wasp up my pant leg reviewing my morning emails. Among the pile was a recurring newsletter I subscribe to — eWebDesign ,with products and coding resources of interest to Graphic and Web Designers and Developers. In today’s batch was “A Free Single-Page WordPress Theme”. If you’ve spent any time on the web lately, these have been all the freakin’ rage, especially for startups, announcements and entrepreneur sites.
A quick look gleaned me this gushing hose of marketing copy. Yes, I know, marketing copy. Imagine that.
“If you’re a fan of the scrolling single-page parallax style themes, OnePress is a new one on WordPress.org that may pique your interest. After less than a month in the official directory, it has already been installed on more than 3,000 websites. OnePress was developed by the folks at FameThemes using Bootstrap version 4. It is suitable for business, portfolio, and agency websites.
“The theme features a full-screen background image with action buttons in the first major section. Scrolling further down reveals an about section, services, a video lightbox, an animated counter, team section, latest news, and contact form…” – WP Tavern
You can go there if you like, check ’em out, but I had kind of already hit saturation point. Oooooh look, Paralaxxxxx… Bootstrap… hugh hugh hugh uff. But once I saw, “installed on more than 3,000 websites,” I was pretty motivated to move on with my day. Despite the titanic humongousness of the modern Web, there are still apparently already over THREE THOUSAND SITES out there that already look like this. I am pretty sure I have already seen a few hundred of them, and I’m bored to tears. Even with a free theme, the amount of customization and get-under-the-hood tweaking and custom graphics to make this thing stand out from the mob, it would be worth it to spend a few minutes more to find something a bit more distinctive for a project. Or purchase a more fully featured theme for a relatively minor fee, to get much closer to the project’s aim.
Clients get this backwards all the time. “I want you to use a free theme, keep our costs down.” Well, fine. But if I have to spend 8 hours at my fair, but non-trivial, designer’s rate to customize it and research add in a half dozen plug-ins to get to the desired functionality. So much for any savings — several times over. But on the other hand many clients would much prefer a set, low, flat fee for projects, and burn my time with 10,000 tweaks and additions.
But why are these one-page things so damn popular, despite the painful sameness of so many of the gorram things? Many better designers than me have already belabored the fact that Responsive and Mobile-first design techniques have served to create a maddening blandness and similarity to the look of the web. Sites bend to follow the design paradigms of IOS and Material Design, riffing off of Bootstrap and Foundation… It’s kind of what it is, given the limitations of the technology, but it’s getting harder to create distinctive designs that people will remember. But yes, it IS still worth it to get something up and running that’s working, with your development time shortened, and that the client will pay for. That’s often still superior at the end of the week to something beautiful and brilliant, but unfinished and broken, and takes months and months to test and tweak, with either the meter running or your hourly rate sinking.
The killer app is the one that ships, people.
I know that this has been said before, but needs to be said louder and heard more often. CONTENT IS KING. And while you can advise, suggest, and even refer copywriters, illustrators, photographers and other creator types, and create stuff yourself for them — content is still ultimately the site owner’s final responsibility. No one knows more about their topic than the site owner — most particularly and critically the unique details that separate them from an ocean of competitors or colleagues. I’ll remind folks that the “www.,” that a lot of folks consider quaint and passé and unnecessary in this age of smarter browsers, is still the protocol, and it still stands for World Wide Web. That’s the size of the audience, your competition, and the backdrop you are trying to stand out from. Better bring something to the conversation, and you’ve heard the one bout bringing a knife to a gunfight. Content.
But if you’re a startup, or still in development mode. You may not HAVE much content, or a lot of content not ready for public consumption. If this is the case, a single page site is an appropriate way to still carve out some web presence, and it might be enough and just fine. But I’ve been down this road, where a client has a lot they have to say, or should be saying, and just don’t get their content together. A one-page site is a convenient opt-out of developing their material, or getting something up quick. That’s fine if you put it up while developing a deeper, more fully-featured site. But so many will launch it and kind of forget it. Your mileage will probably vary.
Some sites will fail the other direction, and try to keep all their content on that one glorious page. I gotta tell ya, even with an iPhone scrolling smooth as butter, “infinite scroll” can get frakkin’ tedious. It used to be that the benchmark was that if you had more than three screens of content, go ahead and make a new page. But in the mobile ascendant age, a blurb can be five screens high on a Galaxy S2. So people are getting a little more comfortable with scrolling down for content. But now we have single page sites that are MILES high. Getting to the footer for the “contact us” link for the email address in one of these things is like riding a slow mine elevator to magma depth or a deep submersible to the bottom of a mid-ocean trench where no light shines. If you’ve this much content, do your site visitors a favor, and go ahead and bust that stuff up into navigable pages.
And guess what? Your site will feel bigger, better organized, more together and professional, and less like a PILE. Your website shouldn’t feel like that stack of papers, bills, sketches, research, and design books teetering on the corner of your desk. I’ll own that. Guilty guilty guilty… My stack has a pair of gardening gloves under a copy of the Joy of Digital Photography.
I will read that. Really. After I finish these emails…