You know how every box of LEGO® comes with that pretty picture on the front of what it’s supposed to look like at the end…and how you might build it that way once, just once, to see how it looks, before tearing it down and making a spaceship out of the oxcart? It’s the same with websites. We all start off with this great picture in our mind of what a website will look like. And yes, the website might actually make it to that glorious utopia…until someone decides, no, they don’t actually like that thing there. No, this should be bigger. Or smaller. “I know I asked for an oxcart, but please tear it down and make a spaceship out of it.”
When I go about ‘designing’ a website, I think of the website as a sum of parts — planning ahead to how the site’s going to look at the end, and how it’s going to feel. It’s not just a set of fields that then get some CSS (or SCSS!) and JS/PHP applied. It’s something that’s eventually going to be touched by dozens, hundreds, thousands of people, both as users and as content managers behind the scenes. It’s something that needs to be flexible. Something that can move on the fly, something that can be used on a wide-variety of platforms, in a variety of uses, by a variety of users. Something easy. Something modular.
That’s the beauty of Drupal and other modular CMS. You can take these pieces and make damn near anything out of them. So where is this metaphor leading? You need a great workflow to start, a great system to work within. You need your giant tub of pieces.
Once you have your basic “what do we need?” question answered, you can expand on what else you might want. The beauty of Drupal is that you have this extraordinarily flexible system — you can modify your content types on the fly. You can add taxonomies if you want to suggest related content to users. Your layouts are flexible, so you can use them to organize all types of content, albeit with a few minor tweaks. Add some fields to your content types and you can build a brand new view. Add some taxonomy terms and you can link your leaders together and allow them to connect with people that share the same interests.
The point of this is that you need the pieces first. To build a spaceship, you need to start with the 4×4 squares, the crystal cylinder things, and the LEGO® head with the 70s hair. It’s the same with websites. Karen McGrane says to use chunks, not blobs. So you break down your content into consistent and logical pieces. And that will give you the most flexibilty on the back end to organize and display that information, for different audiences, on different platforms, and over time as your needs evolve.
What don’t you want to do? You don’t cram every last bit of information you have into a WYSIWYG, because if you need it later, too bad, you’re writing it again. That would be akin to gluing your LEGO® together. If you ever want to use those pieces for anything else, too bad.
If you had a custom field or post type, you’ve got that piece already at your fingertips, ready for use wherever and whenever you want. You need that information later? No worries, it’s a custom post type. It’s a taxonomy reference. It’s right there in front of you. You decide you want your author on something else? It’s a term reference. An entity reference. A node reference.
So go build your castle or spaceship, your saloon or alien moon-base. Just make sure you have your big tub of pieces first, in case you decide later you want to add a mean laser cannon on the top. Or a Mars rover. I don’t know. You’re the designer.
People like me just provide the pieces.
This blog post is an extrapolation of a session I presented at FuseCon 2014.