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The web design fraud

How to avoid being scammed on your next web project – Part I

by Frida Nyvall

This article aims to describe, explain and give you some advice on what situations to avoid, and why you should avoid them. Part I in the series discusses the difference between a unique web design and a re-styled web template theme.

Just like in any other business, there are people trying to make more money than their services are worth. For it to be a scam, I’m not talking about overpricing just because the company has a certain reputation in which case you the customer are paying for their brand. I talk about situations when you think that your money is used to fund something, but they are instead being used to fund something else – or in worst case; used to fund nothing at all.

The web design fraud

What is it?

The (web design) company promises to deliver a custom design for your new website, but what they really deliver is a reused and restyled theme (most often for the CMS WordPress). This might all be well if they communicate this to you, and adjusts the price accordingly. It is not ok if they shut up about it and make you pay for something that they do not deliver.

How is it a fraud?

Easiest described as someone selling you a custom made wedding gown, but really just buys a dress at H&M and does some minor alterations like attaching a belt and making the skirt shorter. You pay for what you think they deliver, but in reality you are paying for alterations and not a unique and personal design.

How big sums are we talking about?

Even if there are a lot of high quality themes that are well worth their price, they are sold from an unlimited supply point of view. Since the developers and designers behind the theme expect to sell thousands of copies, each sale does not have to carry the total cost of producing the theme. Therefore, a theme normally costs no more than around 50 USD.

If you have an agreement with an agency to put in the effort and make you a personal, one-of-a-kind website designed to cater for your specific needs, you are the only customer for that website and therefore you will be the only one funding its design and development. Depending on your needs, a well-constructed custom website can cost anywhere from 5 000 USD and up.


when paying for a unique design but getting a restyled theme you might be scammed on thousands of $.

How can I avoid this?

For the web-savvy user I recommend inspecting the code on some of the agency’s previous web project. If you find an unusual amount of .css files where a lot of them have URLs containing things like /theme/[name that is completely unrelated to the website or company]/ then you might want to take a close look at the creator declarations in the main style file (provided it is a WordPress theme). Often this will help you finding out who has really created the theme. Another quick way is to simply do a web search for the theme name. If it is a commercial theme, some of your search results should lead you to the shop selling it in the first place.

For the average user I would recommend being selective when choosing an agency or designer to work with. Have a look at their previous work in this category – do the websites they design look unique and tailored to the needs of that particular customer? What do you know about the agency? Ask for references, especially if the reason for you to contact them is that you’ve heard that they are really cheap.


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