Why CMS’s are good for designers

Plone (and other cms’s) allows those of us who architect, design and generally determine the look & feel of websites to do so without stepping on the toes of our programming counterparts.
When I started in this field in the 1990’s, Front Page was all the rage. Heck, I got so good at building Front Page sites that I was training a whole network of content managers (for a large women’s network) on how to add pages (thank goodness for includes) to the site and add their content. I spent a lot of time cleaning out cruft in the Front Page output thanks to Netscapes aversion to yucky code.

How things have changed.

My role as designer has changed significantly in the last five years or so since the content management system has become so prevalent. Oh yeah, there are a lot of websites out there using Front Page and Dreamweaver without the benefit of a CMS. A lot more of those sites are looking at ways to update content more frequently (because they know that keeping their site “sticky” requires regular content updates) . They are looking at cms’s with an eye towards keeping their look & feel primarily the same. It’s what they are used too.

A couple years ago I consulted,designed and helped to implement a Plone based intranet for a large company (500+ employees). Their concern? Don’t change the links! They wanted everything to stay the same. It didn’t matter what I wanted architecturally (but it makes sense to put all this information here …) all they cared about is keeping things the same but allowing for staff members to update the site themselves and taking the load off their overworked webmaster.

I still do mockups and wireframes and css. Lots and lots of css. Now though instead of just creating a page with ‘includes’ that points to other pages in a site. I create a “template” by “chopping” up a mockup and placing the elements within a template. I also use tons of CSS (did I mention I do a lot of css). Do I touch “code”. In my designer capacity, I don’t touch code. I can totally redesign a cms template through css and replacing cms elements with my own graphics..either by overriding what the cms has specified in it’s own css with a custom.css or creating my own and putting it last in the list of css specifications.

The mark of an excellent customizable CMS is it’s css hooks. Of all the CMS’s I’ve worked with Plone still outshines the others in this designers eyes for it’s “hooks” and the awesome css registry (I’ll talk about that in another post).