Membership Website Design

You Might Be Missing
The Icing on the Cake

Many business owners choose AccessAlly as their course and membership plugin because they’ve seen beautifully executed websites on AccessAlly.

But if we were to use the analogy of a baking a cake, AccessAlly might be the plate that holds your cake up… while you provide the course membership content (the cake itself) and your WordPress theme is the icing on the cake that makes it beautiful.

Without a plate, your cake will break apart… and a plain cake without any frosting looks unappealing.

plate icon


bare cake icon


cake icon


There are many ways to add design to your membership portal: from ready-made themes, using a theme builder plugin, to hiring a designer. So let’s talk about the icing and design you're looking for in your AccessAlly website, shall we?

Membersite site design

The Value of Design

We all recognize good design when we see it, even if we can’t put our finger on what makes it speak to us.

Design often uses principles of spacing and ease of use that make things more intuitive, and that just click with how our brains work.

In a sense, design cuts out the “extra thinking” that a poorly thought out user experience forces on a person.

That’s valuable in itself.

But what about the hard numbers: does design offer a return on investment, or is it just pretty fonts and colors?

Some studies out of the UK show that for every $1 invested in design, a business can expect over $20 in increased revenue.

Should you invest in design before you launch?


These statistics apply to many industries and types of businesses, but when it comes to online learning and membership sites… does design pay for itself?

In my experience, investing in branding and design for your membership site will be profitable when you already have a proven product and paying customers.

Let me explain: I don’t think it makes sense to invest thousands in making a beautifully designed course or membership site (or website for that matter) until you have a proven proof of concept that you can scale.

There's a lot to be learned from launching your course, and refining your marketing and branding based on your real world experience.

Instead of investing in design up front in these cases, it makes more sense to use that money to build an audience, and bootstrap your first launch offering.

Once you’ve got people on board, and you’re starting to add more paying members - then it’s time to invest in custom design and branding. At this point in time, it will give you a higher return and help you attract even more customers.

But without a product that people are willing to pay for already, working on your branding and design is a form of procrastination that stops you from making money in your business immediately.

Designers vs. Developers

Not every expert you hire has the same skillsets. Some excel at design, some prefer the coding and implementation of websites, and some are able to do both.

Most membership site and online course projects will require both skillsets. The visuals aren’t functional without the website elements, and a plainly coded website won’t look as professional and put together.


  • Focus on branding and visuals
  • Come up with creative ideas
  • Lay elements out visually, using space, colors, and images
  • Think about the User Experience (UX) and flow
vs icon


  • Focus on functionality and making things work
  • Come up with smart technical solutions
  • Implement visual guidelines and mockups into working websites
  • Use code, plugins, and theme builders to do their work

The Good, Fast, Cheap Triangle

(you get to pick two)

cheap good fast triangle

There’s a rule that applies to all projects (course and membership sites included!) and it states that:

It can be done fast, cheap, or well - but not all three at the same time, you only get to pick two.

So if it’s cheap and fast, it won’t be very good. If it’s good and fast, it’s going to cost you. And if it’s cheap and good, then it’s going to take a long time.

Keep that in mind as you make your design decisions.

Your Membership Design Options Include:



Learning to set up the design side of your course or membership area is the “slower” way, but it’s very cost-effective if you're launching programs for the first time.

You can use our free AccessAlly Theme for WordPress.

As with any new theme, there’s a learning curve, but the AccessAlly Theme makes it easier than ever to create and launch your AccessAlly site.

With this option, you will be the one working on your site (rather than hiring someone else). If you get stuck or want feedback, you can join us for our free AccessAlly Tune Up Calls.



If you don’t have the technical inclination or the time to learn how to set up or customize WordPress theme settings, then you might want to hire someone to do it for you.

In this case, you’re not hiring a full blown designer so you won’t pay as much as you would for a custom design. Your designer or developer might recommend you start with an online course template or pre-created theme.

From there you’ll get something back fairly quickly, and it may not be 100% unique to you but it will look professional and you won’t have to do all of the work yourself.

This is a great option to create a proof of concept for your course or membership without spending all of your time mired in the tech stuff if that’s not your forte.

You might spend anywhere from $1000-$2500 for this option depending on how much customization you want and what theme options there are.



This is the option that we all want to go for, right out of the gate - but as I mentioned earlier, hiring a designer prematurely can be a waste of resources if you don’t have a proven product and market.

This is the “good and fast” option, and it won’t be cheap - you might spend $5000 on the lowest end and up to $10,000 or more on a really great designer. (And speed here is relative, it might still take months depending on what branding you already have in place and how quickly you decide on a design direction.)

The upsides of hiring a professional designer or team of designers and developers for your project are that it will be unique to your company, and you will get a finished product you’re really proud of.

You’ll often get a brand guide that you can re-use to keep all of your visual assets on brand, and no one will mistake your brand for someone else’s.

If you’ve already got a successful course or membership site, doing a rebrand with a pro designer can build buzz and help you raise your prices and elevate your standing in the marketplace.

This is the option that many AccessAlly clients in our showcase have chosen.


The bottom line is that AccessAlly will be there with your courses and membership site as your brand evolves and your business grows.

You might start off customizing a simple WordPress theme or builder, just to get your first product selling out into the world.

If you're looking to get inspired, check out these membership site examples for ideas.

Then you might revisit your design by hiring someone to up-level the look and feel using a customized template.

Finally, when your business is bringing in more money you can earmark some of it to hire the designer of your dreams.

The most successful businesses are in it for the long term, and they know that bootstrapping and re-investing as money comes in from sales is how growth happens.

Hire a Certified Expert

AccessAlly has trained Certified Expert partners who run the gamut: some are developers, some will customize a simple template for you, and some will take on your fully custom design project.

Find an Expert

Search through the directory.