Understanding the difference between Semi-Custom & Custom design services

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In today’s episode, we’re gonna be talking about something that I am very passionate about, that I see happening way too often in the design industry, and I want to make you guys aware of it. I want to help educate you guys on it so that you yourself can decipher between these different items and understand and be able to communicate with your designers so that you know exactly what you are getting and don’t end up feeling like some of my friends and peers that have felt duped because of this very thing, and that is semi custom versus custom design.

Arm yourself with an understanding of semi-custom and custom design

Sometimes I think it is the designer’s fault, and sometimes I think it’s falls on you. Not at your own fault, but at the fault of you just don’t know what to expect, right? You may not know the difference, or you could be kind of afraid to ask further questions, get very clear on the deliverables and the expectations.

And then I do think that sometimes it falls onto the designer, whether they do that mistakenly or on purpose. I think that they just don’t know how to communicate it. Or they don’t think to communicate it. And then sometimes I really do think that they do it maliciously and it grinds my fucking gears. They say that it’s custom and they really mean it’s semi custom, but they know that you will be more drawn to the custom and you are going to think that you’re getting a better deal, right? At the end of the day, I am all about transparency and I want to make it blatantly obvious which kind of service you’re getting from me. And every time I hear somebody talk about their experience with their designer that their expectation was one thing and they got another, it really, really upsets me and breaks my heart. And so it’s not fair to you, right? You are being told one thing and then getting another, and I want to break it all down for you so that you have a clearer understanding of what kind of service you’re getting, questions you could ask and allowing you to communicate with your designer, whether that is with me at Lenya or with another designer that you are working with. That’s why I’m bringing you this podcast so that you can kind of understand that a little bit better. We’re gonna take a look at three categories to compare and contrast these two types of design so that you can really have a clear understanding of what to expect between the two and honestly, so that you can sift out and see if designers are being transparent with you or if they are going to give you what you expect and want. These three things are going to be design and customization, pricing and turnaround time and revision and input.

Defining the difference between custom and semi-custom brand & website design

So to start with, let’s talk about the generic definition of semi-custom versus custom. So the semi-custom or custom tailored design, as I like to call it inside of Lenya creative, involves using pre-designed templates or pre-made assets to create a brand and website that are then customized or tailored to your specific needs.

Versus a custom design or from scratch design, which is what I like to call it inside of Lenya creative, is exactly what it sounds like. It’s completely custom made from scratch and evolves creating a brand new website that is strategically and uniquely based around your goals, vision, purpose, personality, your unique business structures, your unique services and offerings. So it’s really good for those more complex businesses, but it is also great for those businesses who, maybe have a more simple structure, but really want to capitalize on their personality and their goals and really work towards growth in their business. So that’s kind of the difference between those generic definitions

The design & customization differentiators between semi-custom & custom design

Moving into the first category we’re going to compare and contrast is the design and customization abilities between the two. So as we already mentioned, semi-custom design typically starts from some sort of starting place. Whether that is a template or a strategic pre-mapped wire frame that is curated for a more generic industry standard in mind. And then is carefully crafted and customized to your desired style and values.

Semi-custom design for brand & website design capabilities

Semi-custom design for a brand design could look like

First this may look like fonts that may or may not be manipulated to fit your vibe. So we’ll always start with some sort of strategy, whether that’s a generic understanding of the vibe for your industry and your style, and then manipulating those fonts to fit even more so or just curating fonts that work really well together that also communicate your specific style and value.

This can also look like strategically curated assets like illustrations, icons, graphical assets. Basically think generically made into personal, right? It’s created for the generic, but we take it and curate it specifically for your business. We make sense of this general thing and turn it into something that makes more sense for you and your business. And because we do this as designers every day, we constantly are investing and learning and have this whole arsenal of resources to grab from, to really curate and get your desired style out into the world, versus you spending hours and hours trying to find those curated assets yourself. The exact deliverables. Can vary depending on the project, the time the creative direction, that sort of thing that you want to go to.

Semi-custom design for a website could look like:

Again will start with a template or pre mapped wire frame that is strategy based for your specific industry, and then customize it based on your creative direction. We change colors, we change fonts, images, the copy to make sure that the words that are on the template really speak to your audience and speak to you. We’re able to completely transform the vibe of the entire website. We may move things around based on what’s important for your business but the generic overview is pretty much the same.

And we can do this either to a template that we as the design studio then some designers will also take a template that you may have already bought and wish to update or, you know, get just right for your business and will actually customize those templates as well.

But with that being said, semi custom designs they are really limited compared to custom design because, It really relies on that pre-designed template, the turnaround time is shorter, that revision time is shorter, so we have a limited amount of time to really customize like crazy, right?

Custom design for brand & website design capabilities

Versus the custom design, which is completely unique to the client’s brand, this approach really allows for more time and space for creativity, a huge focus on strategy and meaning and designed with your ideal client in mind and really helps create a brand that truly stands out. Typically custom designs last a little bit longer as far as the longevity of the designs and having to come back to a designer to get a rebrand because they are built with more intention and long-term vision and goals in mind rather than just what’s trendy right now. What’s working right now. What looks good right now. It’s definitely based off of strategy more than what looks good. And we are all about that at Lenya Creative.

Custom design for a brand design could look like

So for custom branding, this could look like manipulated fonts. Or not manipulated fonts, kind of like the semi custom design, but we really put a lot of detail and attention into the nitty gritty pixel perfect parts of that looks perfect for your brand. It also can include hand drawn icons and illustrations and patterns unlike the semi custom where we’re kind of curating these illustrations and patterns and icons. And then also we’re putting together different brand marks and different elements that are really being brought all together with cohesion and meaning and all the different elements. Typically, a semi custom design, won’t come with as many assets and creative marks versus a custom design that will typically have a little bit more of the illustrations, icons, assets, and creative marks thrown together.

EXAMPLE ONE: Earth To Madison Photography

An example of the brands with meaning and tying in those different elements and personality, I wanna talk about two of my favorite projects that I’ve had so far. One of them is for Earth to Madison Photography, who’s a concert and wedding photographer, and we curated a hand drawn icon for her logo and her like kind of brand mark that is completely unique to her. Before she had a design that was curated, so these design assets were brought in from an asset market and didn’t really reflect her and her meaning for her brand. And so we took the earth. With Earth to Madison. Her vision of what that meaning came from, from the moon and her tie to kind of the edginess and all that kind of stuff into a half moon half rose concoction design that really brought out her personality and her meaning for her business. And we would not be able to do that in a semi custom design.

EXAMPLE TWO: KPT Event Planning

Another example is with KPT events. Kristen, the owner of KPT events, is a former educator and so everything that her business is built around and the way that she runs her business is really around the idea of all of her skill sets that she was able to develop as a teacher has really been able to be brought into her wedding planning business. So she wanted a nod to that. And so we did a lot of branding elements throughout her website and her brand in general for teacher applications. For Instance, her logo has a little symbol at the top of her words that looks like at first glance, maybe a top of a house or a structure of some sort, but really it’s a node to the top of an old clipboard for a teacher because she always has her clipboard with her when she is working an event. And so that little node is allowing the meaning and intention to kind of bring in that personality and that passion. And so we do things like that. We bring in different brand messaging throughout the website. So things like, instead of just testimonial section, it’s like letters to the planner, which is like letters to the teacher or planner appreciation, which is like teacher appreciation. So little nods like that. Same thing with earth to Madison, with the concert photography nod and her branding. We did things such as meet and greet instead of the about page right. Or other kind of concert nods like oh, what did we do? For the client galleries, we called them albums. So kind of nodding to CD albums and that kind of thing. We’re really able to get into the nitty gritty details of a brand when it is custom, and think about messaging and theming and how to bring in those meanings that will be able to last for a long time, and I love all of these aspects of a brand and my favorite part about the design process.

Custom design for a website design could look like

Now moving into more of a website design aspect, the ability to go deep into custom sections based on their unique process or their unique personality is really able to shine in a custom design as well. So an example here, again, bringing back to K P T events, is that we actually had an entire section that was kind of promoting that she actually gives teacher discounts that she, you know, has this teaching background and how that’s really allowed her to kind of build the skills to make sure that people are doing what they need to be doing, that she’s got everything organized, that she has a teacher voice to make sure that things run smoothly. Things like that really come through on the section. Another example of something that we’re really able to dive into on a custom website are different ways to display expertise and what aligns with your goals and what fits for your specific business desire and goals is creating maybe a different perspective, a different process on certain pages.

So, for instance, one of my high-end photographers that I’ve worked with, they wanted a unique services page because they didn’t want to just give their pricing away or say that, oh, we just have three set packages. They really try to customize each package to the client’s specific needs. And so we completely restructured what a standard services page would look like for a photographer and really built in specific sections that allow them to showcase- Hey, this is what we do, this is what we’re good at, this is the overall experience with us. If you’re interested, let’s, let’s get to talking. And that’s kind of the structure that they wanted for their services. So you just are able to get way more creative and the layouts and the graphics and the verbiage and the sections are able to have this long lasting effect and this more impactful experience for your visitors on your website or on your brand.

With custom designs, we’re really able to come up with more deliverables and more templates that will allow you to really carry out your brand even after working with your designer. My goal is to get you excited and passionate about streamlining your online brand experience, so that you are actually provide the beautiful work and content to your potential clients and get more out of your brand new website.

quote | Understanding the difference between Semi-Custom & Custom design services | Lenya Creative
My ultimate goal is to

To get you excited and passionate about streamlining your online brand experience so you can get more out of your brand & website!

The pricing & turnaround differentiators between semi-custom & custom design

So second thing I wanna talk about is pricing and turnaround time.

Pricing & timeline for semi-custom designs

And for semi custom design, this is where people are really attracted to semi custom designs. Because typically does come at a more affordable price point because semi custom designs start with A pre-design template, they can typically be done or completed more quickly than custom designs. And so designers are able to put their full focus hours into transforming a design in a short, quick time span and can be super beneficial for your business if it’s something that you need a design yesterday, right. Or if you’re a person who is super hyper-focused as well, and are like me and just like to knock shit out because I’m definitely like that. And so, because this is a super hyper focused way of designing and it is based off a pre-built design, it typically means that the pricing is more affordable than a super custom design. And it makes it very appealing for my newer emerging business owners.

Pricing & timeline for custom designs

But if you. Aren’t like that. If you’re not somebody who really likes to knock shit out you really like details and really getting into the nitty gritty, custom designs are definitely your go-to. Custom designs are generally more expensive than a semi custom design just because you are able to get into the nitty gritty, you are able to expand the customization options like we mentioned above and the time spent on strategy, rounds of revisions ,collaboration, custom assets, all of those things really contribute to a longer turnaround time and the pricing to go up a little bit. We spend time on each key phase of the process to make sure that we’re literally crossing every T and dotting every I. So if you are a details oriented person and you like to have a little bit of time to provide feedback and that kind of thing, then custom design is probably more up your alley.

The revisions & feedback differentiators between semi-custom & custom design

The last important thing to note about semi custom designs versus custom design is the revision and input windows.

Revisions & feedback for semi-custom designs

So for a semi custom design, we’re pretty limited on the revisions and the feedback windows because this is such a tight turnaround time in order to ensure that the design process stays on track and stays within budget, which we talked about previously. Because it is a short amount of time that we are really working on this and really focusing on this, you’re gonna have to make sure that you have the time to give your full attention to this project in order to provide feedback promptly. So, although you won’t necessarily be giving feedback all day long during these kind of projects, these semi custom projects. You will want to make sure that whatever your designer has set aside for feedback time, you are able to give your full attention there and give that feedback promptly because any delays can really mess up this hyper-focused workflow and end up increasing the time and money for the project, which is the most appealing part to these semi custom designs.

So if you’re a details person and you like to be super involved in each of these steps, these might not be the best fit as you’re only allowed a certain window of time and it means that you are gonna have to be really good at making quick decisions and keep yourself moving right along.

Revisions & feedback for custom designs

On the flip side of that, with custom design, we have a way longer turnaround time. So you have more opportunities to provide feedback throughout the entire process. You typically also will have more revisions and more opportunity to make adjustments because you’re really gonna be a part of creating this new brand. Every step of the way, your presence will be there, and your designer is just simply leading you along the way, keeping you on the right track and we work hand in hand nailing down every. Little. Detail. You can really sit and evaluate each design and see how it fits into your brand, what feels good, what doesn’t feel good, and your ideal clients.

They’re, there is a lot more strategy that’s involved here, so you’re going to be presented with more presentations and explanation about why each design choice is chosen. It’s backed up by reason and is able to really make sure that your brand presence and your website and your brand is top tier.

So which one is right for you? Should you take on a semi-custom or custom brand & website design project?

At the end of the day, different designers will approach these two things differently and have different deliverables. Depending on their business. But now that you have that better understanding, you hopefully can ask the right questions, understand what kind of deliverables and what kind of designs that you’ll actually be getting.

Semi-custom will be great for you if…

For semi custom design, this is really, really good for new or emerging small businesses with more limited budgets who want a professional website, needed it last week, and just need something beautiful. People who don’t really need something super customized to their specific need or business needs right now, because you’re still kind of figuring out exactly the trajectory of your business or understanding what you need right now. It’s something that you are still kind of cultivating and kind of understanding and you don’t need that deep meaning quite yet. It’s also great for people who are good at being super hyper focused and good at making quick decisions. So like I said, if you’re like me and you like to just knock shit out, it’s super good for you. You have to be good at making decisions as there’s not much time for turnaround time, so you can’t want to kind of sit inside of a decision. You need to be able to make those decisions really quick. This is also a great option for businesses who really want to invest eventually into something super custom, but they just aren’t quite there yet. It’s a great entryway into getting your feet wet and working with a professional or just in general, having that professional look before really diving into that custom design. It’s great because as a new business or as somebody who’s still kind of finding their way, or just getting into the industry, you don’t want to invest in something that’s super meaningful and impactful quite yet because you’re still trying to figure that out and you’re going to best utilize your time and money in a custom design when you have a little bit more of an understanding of where you wanna go. Don’t need to know everything because that is our job creatively, but you need to understand a little bit about yourself in order to move to that super custom design.

Custom will be great for you if…

The custom design is best for businesses that are willing to invest in their online presence. So if you know, this is something I know is super important, I really want to invest in this. I’ve saved up for it and I know it’s super important for my business right now. A custom design could be perfect for you. It also helps established businesses that really want a more unique and more personal and impactful design that really sets them apart from the competition in order to truly make their mark in their industry.

It’s also great if you are the kind of person that really likes working on bits and pieces of a project. Over time, you like the longer timeline to focus on the details, make sure everything’s pixel perfect. Or if you are just a super busy business owner and you don’t have the time to set aside for a week long sprint, or you feel like you need that extra time and attention into your brand new website. It’s also really great for people who want to really focus on their brand experience for their clients. So it kind of starts with a brand and website design, but then they have the intentions of moving that into a more of a process. Right. So their documents or their inquiry form or you know, these other brand touch points that they then want to focus on later on, they’re kind of leading up to that. It’s great for you guys as well, and just in general, I think businesses that have a strong understanding of what makes them different in their industry and they want their website to actually represent that they are bad asses, they are unique and they need something that actually reflect that. And they’re tired of a looking like everyone else. or they have specific design needs such as. A unique, you know, illustration that they really feel represents their business and they want to make sure that that is drawn out and vocalizing that and having something super custom or, you know, services that they provide. Maybe they are a photographer and an educator. Maybe they are a planner, but they also host like a lot of events and so they want a space on their website to be able to showcase their educational event avenues as well. Or they have a very unique philosophy or approach that they really want to showcase to other people.

quote | Understanding the difference between Semi-Custom & Custom design services | Lenya Creative
Ultimately, the goal is to

create a professional and effective brand and web that actually resonates with you and your target audience, and at the end of the day, it’s up to where you and your business are at right now and where you guys want to go.

In Conclusion

Choosing between semi-custom and custom design really depends on your specific needs and budget. If you have a limited budget or a tight timeline, semi-custom design will probably be your best bet. On the other hand, if you want a super. Custom unique design that really reflects your unique position and vision and brand presence online, and you have the time and budget for it. Custom design is probably gonna be best for you. It’s really important to work closely with me or your other designer to understand the pros and the cons to each of these approaches from their specific design studio. And determine. And determine which one is best suited for you and your project and your needs.

Ultimately the goal is to create a professional and effective brand and web that actually resonates with you and your target audience, and at the end of the day, it’s up to where you and your business are at right now and where you guys want to go. So you just need to know how to communicate that to your designer and understand, okay, what are their services? Which one of these services are going to be like a semi custom design versus a custom design? And knowing where you and your designer fall in those, in those realms.

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