Charity, Education, Health, Other

Bespoke vs. off-the-shelf: rapid prototyping and in-browser design

We look at the benefits and drawbacks of using off-the-shelf components to build a web site – and the expertise you need to do it well.

IE’s latest website project was built using hand-picked, off-the-shelf WordPress components. This is a very different approach to IE’s  standard, consultancy-led, Drupal CMS approach – and we adopted it because it enabled us to deliver our client’s relatively straightforward requirements within a tighter-than-usual timeframe and budget.

So, what are the benefits and drawbacks of such an approach? We turned to a couple of cyclists to help us explain…

A bike is a great example of a product made from a collection of individual components. These come in all shapes, sizes, colours and materials, and can be configured in different ways based on usage (road, off-road), budgets and any specialist requirements (touring, racing).

Why go bespoke?

Sometimes to achieve a goal, ONLY a bespoke product will do. When Isle of Man TT racer Guy Martin broke the British record for outright speed on a bicycle, he pedalled to 112.94mph on a bespoke frame. He needed specialist expertise and a bike tailored specifically for his needs, with every component researched, tested and analysed by Rourke Cycles before the final build.

That’s how IE typically approach web design projects, albeit with a little bit of help from the Drupal community, not the Stoke-on-Trent cycle specialists.

Buying off-the-shelf

However, when Chris Froome rode onto the Champs Élysées, into his overall 2015 Tour de France victory, he did so astride a Pinarello Dogma F8. That’s a bike you or I can buy ready made ‘off-the-shelf’. All the design and R&D is already done; that said, he’ll still have had considerable professional advice from a team of experts to configure the bike. His technical team will have selected the right components for him and fitted the bike to him, to ensure it was perfect for Froomey to spend hours in the saddle.

This is the approach we took with the website build. Yes, components were off-the-shelf, but it was the expertise of our digital consultants, and the design flair of our designers that ensured we hand-picked the best possible configuration, assembling and fine tuning the finished product to optimise the ride.

We think you’d be crazy to buy a ‘Guy Martin’ bespoke solution when a Chris Froome ‘off-the-shelf’ version will still provide the ride of your dreams.

So back to the website then... My point is that expert curation of ‘off-the-shelf’ components can deliver a winning product.

Once we had the brief and assets from the client, our approach enabled us to design a prototype site in-browser from carefully curated WordPress components, omitting several steps of our normal consultancy process. Once the prototype was agreed by the client we were able to fully populate the site with content.

Of course there were pros and cons to this approach:


  • Visibility: The client could see the progress of the site in real-time, with a fully responsive, in-browser, working prototype
  • Speed: We were able to draw from a huge library of pre-built components to quickly add functionality
  • Post-build cost savings: Tried-and-tested components require minimal testing and fixing


  • Constraints: With less flexibility than a bespoke approach, client expectations have to be carefully managed
  • Ongoing support: WordPress components tend to be developed by small teams or individuals and can’t always be relied upon to be future-proof
  • Templated design: Component-based builds require top quality design in order to avoid sites looking too ‘bootstrappy’ or too generic


As ever in the weird and fast-paced world of digital, it’s all about offering best value by using the right tools for the right job. Nobody picks up a scalpel and thinks they’re a surgeon. And even with off-the-peg there’s still a place in this world for personal shoppers and Savile Row tailors.