Custom Design vs. Templates

John Gruber offers a new take on an old debate: are design templates a good idea? He's talking about blog templates, but the idea is general. And so is his conclusion:
Default templates are terrific for people who can’t or don’t want to design their own—but they’re terrible starting points for anyone attempting to establish their own unique brand. If you start with nothing, you’re forced to think about everything.
Since it's general, the same applies to Web sites. Many companies think that they need a template and not a custom design. They don't think it matters. In a certain sense, this is true. The content is the main attraction, not the design. On the other hand, I think that this attitude reveals a deeper attitude. It shows that a company doesn't value branding. In this sense, branding means your public persona. And since they don't think their public persona needs to be unique, they don't think their Web site does, either. Again, at one level, that's fine. Maybe you're going to focus on content to be unique. But, there is no sense in which you don't have to be unique. Branding is not trickery. It's a method to make it easy for your customers to clearly understand who you are and what it would be like to do business with you. In making sure that customer know who you are, a custom Web site can go a long way.