My understanding is that a web page Template is a unique full page structure. For example, a horizontal header, followed by a two column layout (A Column = 80% width + B Column = 20% width) finished with a horizontal footer is a Template. This means that I can insert numerous objects within A Column (e.g. a search bar, a news feed, a table etc) across many instances of this Template and it is, by definition, still one template. This also means that a 50 page website may only need 5 templates and you may have a design contract that charges on a per-Template basis.

The problem I'm finding is that each Content Management System (CMS) tends to have their own definition of what a Template is and this makes any discussion with a designer very confusing.

Is a Template defined on a project-by-project basis? Or is there a global rule that defines what a web page template is?

Please address both Mobile and Desktop websites.

  • Guys, it's a perfectly valid question once you just change the pronouns. And actually a very pertinent one. Apr 30, 2012 at 4:35
  • I think this belongs on Webmasters.
    – zzzzBov
    Apr 30, 2012 at 15:03
  • @zzzzBov no, it's not really a good fit for Webmasters. It's a tricky one I agree but UX is probably the best home for this question.
    – JonW
    Apr 30, 2012 at 15:16

4 Answers 4


I've never heard of a desktop website before, but that's beside the point :)

If you're the only person/organization involved in a project, you can afford having a global rule and stick to it. But if you're working with external clients/developers/designers, you'll need to define it on a project-by-project basis, or else to get them to accept your definition (which still needs to happen project by project, or at least partner by partner).

Furthermore, the template you described might be too high-level for some of the more complex websites. For an e-commerce store, you could say that a product page is a template, but the product page of a mobile phone will look very different from that of a book, an app, a software product or a vacuum cleaner. They can be generic enough to look the same, but if you want to provide the best UX, they need to be tailored for more specific product categories. So often your definitions might not hold up, and you'll need to define templates which are more content-dependent.

  • Thanks for the response Vitaly. We have just gone through the exercise of defining what a Template is and our vendor seemed content with the phrase, "A Template is a unique full page layout". We are now at the template definition stage - this is a huge website - and whilst we want to keep the number of templates down, our vendor wants to keep bumping the number up. It's a mistake that I will not make again.
    – rlsaj
    Apr 30, 2012 at 22:24
  • Speaking from experience - this phrase is still open for interpretation. Show him examples of what constitutes a template and what doesn't, discuss static vs. dynamic content, e.g. when an element might come in different configurations on the same page, so you get templates on an element level rather than page level. May 1, 2012 at 3:52

A "web-page template" is simply a template that is used for a web page.

Yes, I know that doesn't help answer the question directly, but it's necessary to understand what a template is to understand how it applies to web development.

From googling "template definition" (emphasis mine):


  1. A shaped piece of metal, wood, card, plastic, or other material used as a pattern for processes such as cutting out, shaping, or drilling.
  2. Something that serves as a model for others to copy: "a template for change".

The second definition is the important one in this case. A template is just a format to be used repeatedly. For web development, this could be as simple as a snippet (PHP is being used here for brevity):

<h1><?= $title ?></h1>
<div><?= $content ?></div>

or as complicated as a whole page.

Some CMSs will use the concept of a "theme" as the over-arching set of templates used to build the website in various different contexts.

  • You're right if we refer to the template as a technical term, but the question is about the UX term. A template is a type of deliverable. It doesn't even necessarily have to be web-based. Apr 30, 2012 at 16:00
  • 2
    @VitalyMijiritsky, I think the real issue here is that "template" is a generic term for what amounts to fill-in-the-blank content. It doesn't have to be about a web page at all. From a UX development standpoint, if you're promising a client a "template" as a deliverable, you should also be defining exactly what will be covered in the template, because it can be so ambiguous.
    – zzzzBov
    Apr 30, 2012 at 16:06
  • 1
    From a UX development standpoint, if you're promising a client a "template" as a deliverable, you should also be defining exactly what will be covered in the template, because it can be so ambiguous - Precisely! That's exactly what the OP was asking about, and this is the answer :). Apr 30, 2012 at 17:46

Is a Template defined on a project-by-project basis?

Yes. As you point out, 'template' isn't any sort of consistent technical term. And as a UX term, it's incredibly generic.

So, yes, each project needs it's own set of defined terms.


I always find that when structuring a content site, it is best practice to define 3-4 page templates that we can use to build the entire site.

Homepage - unique to itself, layout differs from rest of site

Section front - landing page for each major section/grouping

Detail/Article - for everything else.

As far as templating these, you keep in mind what is static (appears on every page), vs unique for each page.

as far as layout, follow a convention, be consistent, and it will work.

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