My Web Design Hell

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You know when you’ve got some news or an idea you’re dying to tell someone, but can find no one who has the faintest idea what you’re on about?

Good.

I’m trying to learn some advanced Web design. Briefly, websites were originally done pretty much like you might lay out a document or design a magazine spread. You put things in their place, they stayed there. The more modern way is to use a ‘content management system’ (CMS). With this you just design the template of your page, then upload your content. The user enters search terms, and a page containing what they want is created for them.

This is obviously a lot more complex, as your website is now essentially a computer program. But there are plenty pre-existing systems you can use. WordPress, the one behind the blog you’re reading, is a fine example.

I’m using the CMS called Drupal because it’s widely said to be the most flexible and capable of all, and if I’m going to the trouble of learning any it might as well be one I can use for other things. But lord, I bit off something chewy. It has that vast sprawling-ness so typical of popular Open Source Software projects, and the learning curve is vertiginous. It’s made out of modules; a core with all the basics built in, then countless others you can add for greater functionality (and complication). I parachute into this jungle with little idea of how to tell a tree from a tiger.

But sometimes things are hard for wholly wrong reasons. I was stuck there for weeks – well, hours spread over weeks – because something really basic didn’t work. You see I want a site I can upload cartoons to, so that people can search through them. But Drupal 7 flatly refuses to display images in search results. Imagine how annoying that would be on eBay. Of course I thought that this was my fault, that I’d just got one of its (many, many) settings wrong. But I discover eventually that it’s a bug. The only solution – or at least the only one simple enough for me to implement – was to add a whole other module that did it right.

So I have solved my first real CMS problem, and went to bed tonight with the basics of my new site actually working. Whereon I find I’m too excited about the damn thing to actually get to sleep.

Thanks for listening.

3 thoughts on “My Web Design Hell

  1. I have tinkered with Drupal a little and it made me cry. I had a hell of a time getting certain elements to display consistently on different pages… my fault, not Drupal’s, but I found it really non-intuitive. I need to revisit it soon and am kind of dreading it.

    1. I was dreading it for a long time too, but I think I’m beginning to get the hang of it. I’m trying to be as systematic about it as possible, concentrating on getting the structure working – and as stripped-down as possible – before even thinking about styling, in the hope that this will make things more predictable. Still, little items keep tripping me and driving me nuts.

      Like there’s a “breadcrumb trail” at the top of all my pages, and I cannot find the option to turn it off!

      Ah well, I know eventually I’ll stumble across it.

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