Continuing To Climb: Drupal Does Design
Is Drupal a bad platform for designers?
(Quick note: I'm referring here to Graphic/Visual Design only. User Experience and Information Architecture Design are also extremely important to the overall Site Architecture, but are not skills that, for example, necessarily come from design or art schools.)
Now, I'll be honest. Theming Drupal can be hard; not as hard as module development, or site/application scaling, but for those of us who aren't very comfortable with, or talented in, development it can seem like a daunting task. This was more true of previous versions of Drupal, but it can still be challenging to find good resources on learning the ins-and-outs of the theming layer, and without the help of good developers who can patiently walk you through the process or complete the theming for you, it has the potential to make Drupal seem inflexible and extremely difficult to tame.
Does this mean that Drupal should change to suit the needs of designers who can't or don't want to learn theming? In my opinion: no, not really. I'm not saying that Drupal's theming layer can't use some improvements, as could the default markup of some modules, but in general it's about as easy to learn as I think we should expect from a CMS/framework as robust and flexible as Drupal.
Instead of looking at how Drupal itself can change to meet the needs of design oriented site builders, I believe that we should look at much more personal methods for tackling the issues that designers have.
Learning about theming
On the individual level, I think designers would benefit greatly from increased learning resources dealing with theming. Though it is not terribly difficult in the scheme of Drupal development, I can say from personal experience that theming can give non-developers a hard time. If you want to learn you could take a class, such as Zivtech's Drupal theming training, watch some of the hundreds of videos on the subject,or by using books like Learning Drupal or by reading through Drupal's vast (and improving) handbook.
I believe that there's a lot more that we can and should do in the training area, and we are firmly committed to helping foster more and better training programs. For example, why not try to replicate some of the successes we've had with identifying and engaging developers through the Google Summer of Code and create a student/mentor program for designers and/or design oriented folks? We could even team them with developers so that they could tackle some of the stumbling blocks together.
It takes a team
If learning to theme Drupal is too hard or takes too long, the second thing you can do is hire developers who can help you, or otherwise partner with them. This is the method that I most often take, in fact this business is where it is today because at some point I realized “I'm never going to be a great developer.” Instead of continuing to climb a learning curve that never seemed to get any less steep, I decided that in order to push forward in a Drupal business that I needed to partner with someone with the development chops to match my client management & business/marketing skills. I was lucky enough to find one of the smartest developers I've met and even luckier that she agreed to partner with me, because together I think we've built (and will continue to build) one hell of a team. And the reality is, it does take a team to build a sophisticated website or application, and not all members of that team need to have all of the skills necessary to complete the entire project.
Understand the medium and be flexible
One of the biggest problems that we at Zivtech have faced when dealing with designers is the rigidity with which some designers approach their work on websites and web applications, and especially with designers with little experience designing for dynamic CMS'. Sure, you can have gradients all over the place, special font graphics in your headers, rounded corners in every possible place, and node text appear wherever you want. But- are those things necessary for the site to be successful and/or good looking? If the answer from the designer and/or client is “yes”, and the design was made without regard to the default output that Drupal and its modules give you, then you should expect that the theming will likely take longer and cost more.
In the same way, if you try and design a building without regard to the constraints the physical world puts onto building design (not to mention the social and political constraints), then you probably don't have a long career in the building industry in front of you. Just as a good sculptor understands the intricacies of working with clay, and a good painter understands the benefits and limitations of different types of paints, brushes and canvasses, so should a web designer understand the intricacies, benefits, and limitations of dynamic and sophisticated web sites and applications.
I completely understand the need to create sites that are not only built to scale, easy and intuitive to use, and relatively simple to extend, but also sites that are visually appealing. What I don't understand is why this is considered hard to do with Drupal. Zivtech and many other Drupal firms build powerful, scalable, extensible, usable and beautiful sites all the time. If you're a designer and you can't or don't want to learn the other skills necessary to work with a robust CMS like Drupal, then by all means hire developers or find development firms to partner with. But please don't claim that “Drupal is bad for Designers”: Drupal developers, designers, shops and the beautiful sites they create prove that this claim is pure Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt each and every day.
Are you an aspiring web developer, fresh out of college and eager to dive into Philly’s exploding tech startup scene? Are you a growing startup or established company in need of talented developers to help take your business to the next level?
Zivtech was thrilled last week when Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter announced that we were one of five winners of Startup PHL’s second round of Call for Ideas Grants, for a 6-week Web Development Bootcamp. We are hosting and teaching this bootcamp along with another awesome Philly web development firm--Neomind Labs--the goal of which is to allow us to share our expertise with, and help create job opportunities for, the next generation of Philly-based professional web developers.
We at Zivtech have been working with Drupal for a long time, some of us for over 10 years, and in that time we’ve gotten to use (and sometimes build) a lot of really cool modules to develop stellar sites for our clients. We have sifted through thousands of modules on Drupal.org, going far beyond the first couple pages of results and venturing deep into the unknown, unheard of, and ultimately under-appreciated modules. We sent out a question to our staff to ask for their favorite obscure modules, and we've compiled this list to share some of these modules that we have found particularly helpful, and to help ensure that they don't fall through the cracks. All of these modules have fewer than 8,000 active installs, and most have under 5,000.
As a Senior Developer here at Zivtech, part of my job is to develop with an eye towards security. If you follow development and security news, you know that achieving security is pretty hard in complex systems. But, while correctly implementing security across a site is challenging, some aspects of security are actually pretty easy and we've known what to do and what not to do for a long time.
Introducing Bear Skin, a comprehensive skin for Zivtech's Bear base theme.
The quality assurance (QA) phase of a web development project is the last phase before launch. While the development team has a lot of experience with QA phases, oftentimes the client team is new to the process, which can lead to stress. Let's prevent this with a little Q&A on QA.
Nominees for the 17th annual Webby Awards have been announced! And Zivtech-built sites are in the running for four awards!
This weekend 9 members of the Zivtech staff will be participating and competing in Startup Weekend Health Philadelphia 2013, which, according to their site, ”centers on building a web or mobile application that could be the basis for a credible business. After 500+ Startup Weekends world-wide, this will be the first dedicated solely to healthcare’s unique problems.”
We love Responsive Web Design, and we love Drupal. But do they love each other? After working on a number of RWD and Drupal projects this year, I'm happy to report that they get along just fine. Though "Love" might be stretching it a bit.
It’s not surprising that the web design and development communities struggle with nomenclature. We are creating new ways of working, new systems, and new things, all of which need names. We rely on what we know, borrowing and altering what we can with varied success.