8 Features to Consider in a CMS

What does a Content Management System (CMS) have in common with toothpaste? If you've ever bought a tube then you know that there are approximately 8 million options, all with different benefits, gimmicks, and promises. Selecting a CMS can feel quite similar....(read more)

What does a Content Management System (CMS) have in common with toothpaste? If you've ever bought a tube then you know that there are approximately 8 million options, all with different benefits, gimmicks, and promises. Selecting a CMS can feel quite similar.

So how do you choose a platform that can do everything that's needed, but doesn't get in the way with unnecessary features? That isn't bloated with excess garbage, but is capable of delivering an intuitive experience? That is extremely secure, without the need for an in-house Nick Burns? That's easy to use, and even *gasp* fun?

To ensure our clients have full control over their sites, every website that we design and develop is powered by a CMS. Over the years we've used a wide variety of options and have learned many lessons along the way. Through that experience, we wanted to offer 8 key features to consider when choosing a platform for your next project.

1. Design Freedom
As we've written about before, 'You Are Not a Template,' so your website shouldn't be either. While the hordes of CMS solutions out there often try to entice with pre-designed templates and themes, a web platform should allow designers and developers to do what they do best: create.

If a browser can do it, a CMS should be able to deliver it. So rather than hearing continual "no's" when asking for new functionality or a custom user experience, there's just a whole lot of "yes."

2. User Interface
We've trained people ranging from millennial nerds to great-grandmas, and in the process have found that an excellent user interface is beneficial for all. In the case of a CMS, the UI should be fully customizable, enabling the developer to create the best possible experience for the content being managed on a particular website. Just as design freedom is vital for the front-end, versatility is a must for the back-end. When a platform is set up to manage your specific content, it makes managing content as easy as filling out a clear and straightforward form, with no coding knowledge required.

3. Flexibility
It shouldn't matter what the end-goal of your website or web app might be – informational, interactive, publication, e-commerce, social, or any combination thereof – a great CMS should be ready for any task. This means the platform should have a robust API and object-oriented core, for total flexibility. Also, bonus points for "open source" platforms that allow access to every line of code, for complete control of your site.

4. Security
With the prolific usage of many of the platforms available today, nefarious attempts to hack these platforms have also risen. For instance, WordPress had 1,217 vulnerabilities logged in March 2017. Yes...one thousand two hundred and seventeen (source: makeuseof.com). Does this mean you should avoid Wordpress and opt instead for a more "niche" platform that doesn't have such a large target on its back? Maybe. But no matter what, security must be a high priority in the selection process.

5. No Bloat
As a developer, there's nothing more frustrating than using a CMS that attempts to provide design or functionality "out of the box" that is not needed. This often results in having to hack through bloated code just to get the desired layout in place.

A "content manager" should do just that - provide a platform for managing content efficiently. Engineering a design should not be painful, and managing content should not be a confusing and laborious task.

6. Community / Support
One of the first things we look into with a given platform is the community forums and support areas. Often this comes down to the type of platform you are choosing, be it a "proprietary" platform that offers paid support, or an "open source" platform with a community of contributors and helpful supporters (our preference). But either way, any quality platform will have an active support system for you to lean on throughout the build of your website and beyond.

7. Documentation
Similar to having an active community or support system, it's important that a platform has coherent and well-organized documentation on its usage. There's nothing worse than trying to use a system that has been well designed but provides little to no instruction on its use. So look for documentation first, rather than waiting until the development phase. If the creators have taken the time to develop excellent documentation, chances are they've taken that much more time to develop a great platform.

8. Integrations
A CMS should do what it does best (content management), and then easily integrate with other systems that do what they do best (customer relationship management, order fulfillment, book-keeping, email newsletters, etc.) Too often platforms try to be everything to everyone and then fail to do much of anything well.

A good example of this would be an e-commerce platform that also attempts to be a content management system. This often results in insufficient control of the content on pages outside of the web store itself, leading to the need to learn code just to get things to look right on your About page, blog posts, etc. Avoid these scenarios like the plague.

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The list could go on, but I'll end with this:

If you find yourself delaying any and all website updates due to fear of that insane-back-end-admin-thing that is supposed to help you update your website but instead haunts your dreams, feel free to say hello. We'd love to turn your sorrow into joy using a platform that is specifically tailored to your needs...and perhaps offer a suggestion or two on your next tube of toothpaste while we're at it.

Adapt or Die

11.6 billion. This is the number of mobile devices expected to be on planet earth by the year 2020. Humankind has long been outnumbered by mobile devices and that gap is only going to widen in the future –– an interesting/exciting/moderately terrifying thought in and of itself....(read more)

11.6 billion.

This is the number of mobile devices expected to be on planet earth by the year 2020. Humankind has long been outnumbered by mobile devices, and that gap is only going to widen in the future – an interesting/exciting/moderately terrifying thought in and of itself.

Life doesn't offer many guarantees, but the continuing exponential growth of portable internet-connected technology is now one of them.

When it comes to how mobile devices are impacting websites, ZD Net confirmed that at the end of 2016 mobile and tablet web usage had officially exceeded desktop for the first time in the internet's history. And then there was “Mobilegeddon.” Back in 2015 Google announced that any site that wasn't built in a mobile-friendly manner by employing the approach of "responsive web design" would be penalized in mobile search results (and they’ve held true to that statement).

This ongoing evolution to how the internet is being experienced continues to confirm that the implications of mobile tech in the world of web design are numerous and at the forefront of the industry. All of this may seem daunting and feel like uncharted territory, but at its core, the challenge is nothing new. Design in all its forms should be focused on the goal of solving problems and making life better (not simply more beautiful).

Web design is no different. While the industry may be ever-changing, the aim remains clear: to create websites with a distinct purpose and engaging experience that are readily available to all. The presence of thousands of different devices makes this difficult, but the key is what it's always been: obtain a full and complete understanding of the problems and challenges at hand and then look to solve them using our research, insights, and expertise in user experience and design to guide the process.

In a time with numerous complexities and now a rapid advancement in mobile technologies, a new certainty arises: a holistic approach to digital design is vital. One that embraces these technological changes and stays on top of trends, while always putting the user first. Never sacrificing form for function (or vice versa), but instead seeing them come together to serve a cohesive purpose and accomplish the goal at hand.

You Are Not A Template.

Self-service is convenient for a lot of things. Salad bars. Gas stations. Checking out at the grocery store. And in a time when the list of “instant” website providers seems to go on and on – Wix, Moonfruit, Pixpa, Jimdo, Weebly, Shopify, Godaddy, Squarespace, Wordpress, The Grid, MoPro, etc. – it’s tempting to wade into the world of web design the same way you’d get a cup of froyo....(read more)

Self-service is convenient for a lot of things. Salad bars. Gas stations. Checking out at the grocery store. And in a time when the list of “instant” website providers seems to go on and on – Wix, Moonfruit, Pixpa, Jimdo, Weebly, Shopify, The Grid, Godaddy, Squarespace, Wordpress, MoPro, etc. – it’s tempting to wade into the world of web design the same way you’d get a cup of froyo. After all, they all claim to offer the convenience of your very own website without knowing how to code.

Website templates often sound great and can sometimes be an okay solution when starting out – i.e. when your budget is tight, and you can’t afford a truly custom website experience. But once your brand has matured it’s time to invest in your web presence in a way that communicates the same pride you would when speaking about the venture you’ve built. After all, in 2017 your website is essentially your brand's public "face" – the first thing people see and your first shot at making a good impression.

We’re frequently asked why a custom-designed website is more valuable than one created using an off-the-shelf template, and our answer is often the house analogy. The difference between a pre-designed home and one designed specifically for you is rather immense. With the former you’re trying to fit your needs into someone else’s vision, experiencing all the frustrations that doing it backward so often entails. With the latter, all of your needs and desires are considered first, and the design, layout, structure, and materials are then chosen to fit those needs perfectly (presuming you’re working with a great architect!).

The same can be said of a template website vs. a custom design. With a pre-designed site, you are taking design and functionality that is seemingly generic enough to work for your needs (and everyone else’s), but almost always results in limitations where you aren’t able to create what you need. You also tend to get lost in the sea of other websites on the internet (now over 1 billion and counting), with no lasting impact or distinguishing factors to separate you from your competition. So while this option is initially "cheaper," costly support and a shorter lifespan often result in a limited return on investment.

The reality is when it comes to the ever-evolving WWW there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution. Everyone’s needs are unique, so every website should be too. If you truly believe in your brand (which I’m sure you do), then your site should be as individual and considered as the products/services you offer. And the people behind it should be thoughtful humans, not faceless robots.

While the website builder list will likely continue to grow and may serve a certain purpose, in the end, it is not the answer. For good design never comes from a mold — it must be carefully crafted with the goal of solving specific, real-world problems. Considering every detail and making all decisions based on the needs, desires, personality, and audience at hand. Where the result is a website experience of lasting value.

Sorry website builder co., but that’s the real future of the internet.

The Balance of (re)Building a Brand

Over the course of the last 7 years we have had the privilege of collaborating with a number of individuals, businesses, and organizations. With each, we've learned that in order to do anything of merit, it can't be done alone. Nor can it be done in a one-sided manner. There must be true collaboration to achieve something genuine. Something truly impactful. Something "timeless"....(read more)

Over the course of the last 7 years we've had the privilege of collaborating with a number of individuals, businesses, and organizations. With each, we've learned that in order to do anything of merit, it can't be done alone. Nor can it be done in a one-sided manner. There must be true collaboration to achieve something genuine. Something truly impactful. Something "timeless".

It all comes from balance.

In the context of building (or rebuilding) a brand, a good design team will of course bring their expertise, hard work, problem-solving skills, and keen insights to the projects they approach, but they must always balance that with the understanding that their client - the humans on the other side of the table - also have something to bring to the process. No one knows the identity of an organism better than the people that are in it, so their opinions and insights are invaluable, especially when defining overall brand strategy, ideal audience, and general approach.

On the flip side, a good design client will of course bring their familiarity with their brand, insight into their audience, understanding of their goals, and a strong desire for it to be successful, but they must then let the designer do what he/she/they are hired to do - design.

One of the many privileges we've had was getting to partner with the incredible team at VMDO Architects. They are an architecture and design firm with an unwavering commitment to creating environments that shape the way people live, work, and play. For the last 40 years they've been dedicated to helping institutions and communities envision pivotal projects, specifically within the world of education. Their heart for the work they get to do is extremely sincere, and that is felt in the spaces they design.

As they embarked on a new decade of practice, the VMDO team approached us to help them evolve their brand by way of a new visual identity and website experience. As a long-standing firm with much history, they easily could have been tight-fisted about things - micro-managing the process and output - but instead they understood their role as well as ours. They gave us the information we needed to do what we do, built a true relationship with our team in the process, and then trusted us to do what we do best: create.

The result was a new visual identity and online experience that not only showcased their work but also communicated the values within the work. And because a truly collaborative balance was struck, the work culminated in an identity with lasting value.

Before:
VMDO Architecture Firm Rebrand - Before

After:
VMDO Architecture Firm Rebrand - After

VMDO Architecture Firm Rebrand - After

VMDO Architecture Firm Rebrand - After

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