A Designer's Perspective on Drupal

October 3, 2008

There's a shirt for sale on Veer that simply reads, "I draw pictures all day." I want that shirt.

Drawing pictures all day is part of my job description as a website designer for Digett. I have to show the client a picture of what their site will look like upon completion. Once approved, I pass it off to our developers to bring the picture to life. Sounds easy, right? Not so fast, my friend.

I think a common mistake in this business—and, probably, others—is to think that the other guy's job is easy; I know I've been guilty of it myself. Although starting out I had a decent background in design, I didn't know much about designing for the web, and nothing about Drupal, the content management system we often use in our projects.

I thought I could do whatever was needed to create an interesting and unique site design and the developers could make it happen, no problem. I asked myself, "How hard could it be?"

The reality is that with real-world time and budget constraints, there are things that are just too hard to do, dare I say, impossible. I have to be sensitive to what programming allows and what can't be done at all.

There is a lot more to designing for the web than meets the eye—and even more involved when designing for Drupal.

We build our sites using Drupal so the client can make real time content changes to their website without our immediate assistance, among other reasons. I think the most crucial adjustment I had to make as a designer was getting it through my thick right brain that our clients manage the content on the site, not I.

Sure, I could put together a perfectly balanced page with three identical paragraphs, side by side, each with 15 lines of text. But if a client goes in to add a couple of extra lines to one paragraph, it falls out of the container I've made for text and ruins the aesthetic of the entire page. Ultimately, the page looks sloppy and the blame falls squarely on my shoulders. The burden should not be on the client to edit text to fit the page but on me as a designer to create a page that is flexible enough to accommodate any amount of content while maintaining good design.

Although I've made significant strides in my rookie year, there is so much more I have to learn about web design and designing for Drupal. The best thing I've got going for me is a strong team, including two dynamite developers who do a great job keeping me in line and teaching me better ways to approach a Drupal design.

There is, however, a balance to be struck. I don't want to get to the point where Drupal dictates my design. I don't always let our developers take the path of least resistance, especially when I feel strongly about a design element. From my perspective, some things just have to work and from their perspective, some things just won't work at all. We have an understanding.

This give-and-take relationship yields a great amount of growth as individuals and as a team. It is the reason why the pictures I draw all day turn into some of the most user-friendly and unique Drupal-based websites on the Internet.