Drupal themes are easy?

Can a non-tech guy build a quality Drupal website? Sure, if that guy works for a web development agency with a team of programmers and developers nearby.

But let me tell you, even as a marketer in that situation I still found it difficult.

The website was just to test the response rate of our services in another segment, nothing too serious. We decided to use a theme to make things easier, but I felt it made things even more complicated!

I want to share my experience as someone with no background knowledge and highlight five issues I realised that I felt made it difficult to build a Drupal site, particularly while using a pre-existing theme.

1) Drupal themes do NOT provide a completed Drupal website

Call me naïve, but one of the biggest mistakes I made was thinking using a theme meant the website was finished. If you plan on using the theme without making any adjustments, then this can be true, but not for me.

Themes aren’t built to be changed or messed with. For the most part, themes are coded to be used as they are displayed in the demo. This means your content should fit the design of the theme — which as a marketer doesn’t sit well with me.

I feel the content should come first; meaning you should plan what you want to say before thinking about how to deliver it. Using themes seems to reverse this process.

2) You need to be a Drupal genius to edit themes

If you want to make any changes to the theme, it actually requires solid knowledge of web development.

I realised this when I tried to add a few icons on the screen with text underneath:

Drupal Icons

Even something seemingly easy was made difficult when considering how this might look on other devices such as mobile and tablet.

This type of layout wasn’t already coded into the theme, so this required writing individual code to make sure the icons and text was responsive to all platforms. I was fortunate enough to have Drupal developers as colleagues that helped me, but I’m assuming most people won’t have this luxury.

3) Managing content with themes? Good luck 

Themes aren’t always built to cater for content creation.

This means adding and editing text or images can be particularly difficult for someone that isn’t that familiar with Drupal or web development.

Things like text formatting can have some functions missing from the content editor bar and would require going through the Drupal configurations to add them in:

Drupal Configuration Bar

Or the option to add images might not be made default for some pages:

Drupal Image Upload

Because of my limited editing options, I had to venture out and actually learn some code to accomplish even the small changes I wanted to make:

<p style="text-align: center;"> sample text </p>

<p><font style="color:#428bca;"> sample text </p>

This blew my mind as even just aligning text or changing the colour made me feel like some expert IT hacker writing complicated code… when it was probably the most basic stuff to write.

4) Drupal Blocks and Views can be very difficult

This is particularly prevalent when using Drupal themes.

The way some themes are coded can make the way pages are built next to impossible for a non-techie person to understand; speaking from experience.

For example, the theme we used displayed content through a ‘views’ block which was actually content published on another page. So, the content on the home page (see below) actually came from another landing page.

Drupal Development Icon

Drupal Page Content

I must admit, I was pretty lost until my colleague figured it out.

5) Building a website is veryvery difficult

Finally, this whole learning experience really made me understand and appreciate what it takes to build a decent website.

Not that I’m saying what we built was good, just that I know how difficult it is now. There are so many facets to consider when building a website, from the backend development to the frontend design. Understanding what both entails will make it easier to understand:

  • The limitations of what can and can’t be done (with the placement of content, the functionality and look of the website)
  • The scope of what you want and how long this takes
  • The general practices for website development (responsive design, SEO)
  • How to appeal to users (in terms of content length, image placement etc)
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