I see a lot of discussion on web design forums and blogs about the trend in modern web design for designers to simply modify ‘Premium’ WordPress themes and charge a reduced rate for the service, compared to designing a site from scratch. The argument is that this trend will keep the rates we can charge for custom design too cheap and keep the premium theme companies loaded. On the latter I agree, but I feel this trend is only going to get more popular and in fact it’s allowed small/medium business and people wanting personal sites to be able to afford cool looking websites with great functionality that was never before possible on a budget; it might have even helped ‘beautify’ the web a little more as most of these ‘Premium’ themes don’t look too bad straight out of the box.
I’m all for this trend, and good-on the premium theme companies for creating a new marketplace that basically didn’t exist 2-3 years ago (you should gladly reap the benefits, as you are the ones actually building the themes from scratch and doing the support) but I think it’s important designers do their best to make their modifications really stand out and different from the original themes in the interest of keeping the web diversified. I also believe there is still a place to earn a decent living as a designer through custom premium theme modifications – if you can explain to the client exactly the changes you have made and can show some initiative on improving the functionality of the theme in some aspects, then why can’t you charge a 1/3 price to building a site from scratch and be able to build 3 sites in the time it takes to design one from scratch; thus earning the same income?