How to Use Design Templates and Still Be Creative

By Sim Samra

Templates

In the world of design, templates sometimes get a bad rap. Some people out there will argue that they stifle (or hold back) any original thought or creativity.

But the truth is, no one gets a medal for building a business without using templates. They're so prevalent in our lives. The contracts we sign are templated, and the auto-responder emails we receive are templated. All invoices... yup, you guessed it — templated. 

Businesses thrive on templated tools, so why should content creation be any different? 

We sat down with Vincent van der Laan, Foleon's Creative Director, to discuss how designers and non-designers can benefit from using templates and still exercise their creative muscles. 

Vincent, as I'm sure you know, I'm a writer with zero passion for design. But for me to scale up my content efforts, I need to get better at this. So how can you (as a design extraordinaire) ease some like me (a non-designer) into the world of design through templates? 

Hey Sim, when you have too many options available, I can imagine that as a non-designer, it's overwhelming. I strongly believe that creativity starts when designers can help narrow down the options. 

Of course, most of this can be done at the briefing and branding stages but making sure there's a basis for everyone to work with in the form of templates prevents people from feeling overwhelmed. 

For instance, I know you work a lot on eBooks and white papers, so making sure those templates are available to you in the Foleon Editor so that you can start laying out the text is already shortening your design time — which is great, especially if designing isn't your thing. And since the templates are already branded, you can't really go wrong. 

All designers need to recognize that the tilting point of being overwhelmed lies in different places for different users, so communication is key in the content creation process to ensure everyone's creativity flourishes. 

Good to know I can stay on-brand with templates! What else should I keep top of mind when designing a piece of content?

One of the most important things any content creator can do — and many still forget — is to look at the content through the eyes of the reader. It sounds obvious, doesn't it? You need to decide whether your reader will be guided by the hand through the eBook or whether they must navigate themselves. Creators need to decide whether they need an index with anchor links or if they want to create a website read instead with a menu bar, etc. 

There are so many different ways a piece of content can flow, so it's about deciding what style and flow will work best for readers. And it will differ depending on whether you're creating an eBook, white paper, guide, etc. Understanding what categories apply to each use case is essential. 

With templates, category structures are pre-assembled and easier for users to work with. Designers should develop a logical set of categories that their users can work in. The categories are almost as important as the templates themselves. If people can't find them, they'll have difficulty applying them. 

Can you share an example(s) of a template that has worked well and explain why? 

The Foleon Brand Guide is a great example of a template that works. As soon as someone lands on the cover, they can quickly learn more about our colors, logos, and tone of voice. Finding a layout that worked for our readers took a while. We did this by experimenting with multiple templates and polishing them. 

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Bonus content: You can learn more about how to build a kick-ass Brand Guide that everyone will love here

How often should designers refine and improve templates to regularly meet evolving needs (both internal and external ones)? How often do you experiment with the templated formats? 

Sometimes you want to enrich your library; sometimes, your product gets updated, and you want to add new features to your template. You have to apply a set of rules to decide when you want to revamp your templates. I think there's no harm in taking a critical look at your templates at the end of every quarter, or at the very least, at the mid-year point. 

Do you think customers can decipher mega differences between visual marketing made from really good design templates and custom design? Or is it all relative

The only people who have a hard time with templates are designers. Designers think templates limit their creative freedom.

When you're a designer directing and enabling other users, you should ideally embrace templates. Not only will your work look more consistent, but people will have more fun designing because they'll make fewer mistakes. 

Designers love to float in the cloud of possibilities, but you don't want a business user to do that. I think there is a fear things will look dull, but that's not always the case.

As you mentioned at the beginning of the interview, Sim, everything is templated. People need patterns. We understand the layouts of books, newspapers, contracts, etc. It's time to embrace templates in our content design. 

How can designers and non-designers benefit from using Foleon as their content creation platform? 

More and more design professionals are becoming enablers and empowering others to help, so that's where a platform like Foleon comes in. The Editor is user-intuitive, it has a drag and drop function, undo and redo buttons, and most importantly, designers can upload branded templates. This means any user can go into the Editor and start creating. 

Designers can then focus on overseeing creative processes rather than nitpicking each piece of designed content. 

The nice thing about the Foleon platform for non-designers is that almost anyone can use it regardless of their design skills. With a small push from Designers, many Marketers could easily create something by themselves. 

Modern design tools are there to make life easier. And it means a lot of the nitty-gritty production stuff is taken out of your hands, making designing more fun. 

Thanks, Vincent, I shall go forth and create.

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Sim Samra

Sim is Foleon's content marketer and is one of the blog's main curators. When she's not traveling or dog-sitting, she's usually hard at work unearthing headline-worthy content marketing trends. LinkedIn profile

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