Thursday, February 19, 2009

CMS In... HTML Out?

Web Designer: What would you like your web site to do?
Client: I'd like it to have photos fade in and out on the home page. I'd like up-to-date announcements on the home page. I'd like there to be a note on the home page when some other part of the site is updated. Oh, and I'd like a few interactive forms too.
Web Designer: Okay we can do that for you. It's gonna cost a bit though.
Client: Oh, and I'd like my secretary to be able to change the photos now and again, and to update the page content as we need it. But she doesn't know Dreamweaver, nor does she want to. I'd also like her to be able to create new interactive forms too.
Web Designer: Sigh.

You see it's no problem for designers and developers to create site design and administrative tools whereby clients can update their own sites, but the cost can be prohibitive to the small business. They don't want to pay for maintenance and updates, but they don't have the know-how to do it themselves. Programmers can create the administrative tools for them that provide an easy-to-use interface, but the cost for this alone can run into the thousands.

Only a handful of years ago, very few small business clients would be asking for such things. Today, however, it's very common. Why? Because they see it all over the web. They go to blog sites, forums, community web sites, news sites, online stores and so on. They see all the cool trinkets and doodads and they figure everyone else is doing it; it must not be that big a deal.

So how are these sites pulling this off? Content Management Systems or CMS. This is a whole different methodology to making web sites. There are no actual HTML pages developed. That's right! The whole thing is database driven. All the content goes into something like a MySQL database whether it be text or images. There's some pretty hairy programs that make the whole thing function. And when a viewer clicks on a link to open a "page," the programs dynamically pull it together in the browser. The viewer is none the wiser. There's no Dreamweaver involved here, so what is the web designer's role?

Well, to start with the pages are pulled together in a certain fashion that the designer has predetermined by creating a template. Now don't get excited all you Dreamweaver aficionados! These templates are quite different from what you're used to. They are generally based on XML and are quite intricate. If you are not a "programmer" minded person, this will definitely be perilous territory for you.

You will also need to choose a CMS program and take some serious time to learn how to use it. There are several out there, the most popular being of the Open Source ilk, meaning they're free. Joomla and Droopal (pronounced droo-pul) are probably the two most popular. A lot of folks are using the downloaded version of Wordpress to make a CMS site. They all have positives and negatives, and it's your job to research and decide which one you want to spend many hours learning and working with. Yes you'll be reading many articles and books on which ever tool you select. This is a whole new ball game for the traditional web designer.

The CMS method of site development is not new, but it's becoming more prevalent every day. And there are programmers out there who have a mind for this kind of stuff. They could easily nab business from you by offering all the cool bells and whistles for half the price. But if you are a traditional web designer who creates static pages using Dreamweaver, this will require some serious paradigm shifiting. I wouldn't say that static pages are totally out, as the CMS method is fairly difficult to learn. But it would behoove you to give it a try and who knows, you might have a mind for this stuff and open up a whole new world for yourself and your clients. Not to mention, you will secure your future in the business too!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Who am I?

I am a freelance web site designer and developer and part-time instructor at the College of DuPage, a local community college. One of the great benefits of teaching is how much I learn! Students are always coming up with new questions that cause me to "do a little research." The web world is an ever-changing ever-growing life-force, and I think it's impossible to know it all.

This blog is about sharing information and comments with anyone who is interested in increasing their understanding of designing and basic development for the web. I am not a "programmer," by which I mean I have "a guy" who does my interactive back-end coding. If you're not one of those, you should find someone who is!

Please look here for brief articles on various ideas and tips about web site design and development. Even if you are an advanced web site creator, you may still find bits of beneficial information. I always tell my students, some of whom already know how to make web sites, they will still inevitably glean some new information in my classes. I hope you'll check back soon.