Drupal for every personality: websites for the control freak, the delegator, and everyone in between


We always hope that the websites we build will make our clients’ day-to-day lives easier. What keeps our job interesting is that no two clients define "easy" the same way.

During the planning process, we explain to our clients that at one end of the spectrum lies a website that give you complete control and flexibility, and at the other lies a website that automatically takes care of everything for you. Where you fall on this spectrum depends a lot on the nature of your content, the people you’re trying to reach, how much time and energy you can invest, and your own priorities.

Complete control: rule your website with an iron fist

Do you love order and precision? Have you been known to alphabetize your spice rack, color-code your closet, or stockpile drawer organizers? Do you have ample time and willingness to lovingly craft your website and arrange content just so? Does your content have more exceptions than rules? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, we’re guessing you will lean toward the “complete control” end of the spectrum.

Does this photo cause your OCD to flare up? Your website can provide order and serenity in a chaotic world.

An example

Our client, Tekscan, manufactures pressure and force sensors for a myriad of industries and uses, anything from testing your tires’ grip on the road to making sure your molars connect when you bite down. For each of these applications, there are a variety of products, plus a ton of associated news, events, publications, and testimonials.

Initially, we thought we'd have them tag all their content by application (for example, Tire Treads or Bite Analysis) and that the right content would magically appear on that page. But the more we learned about their different product lines, the clearer it became that an automated approach was not going to work.

First off, their markets are so diverse that each one needed a page structure all its own. For example, dentists care about testimonials and peer-reviewed journals, whereas engineers primarily want product specifications. We set up Drupal to let them customize content tabs and blocks per page depending on their customers’ interests.

Secondly, they often wanted to select specific, targeted events (like a trade show) or resource (such as a whitepaper or e-book) on a given application or product page. Since this kind of curation process requires human intervention and can’t be automated, we instead made it as easy as possible. To feature content on any given page, they just pick it from a list and the formatting takes care of itself.

Pros & Cons

The big advantage here is, as we’ve been saying, control. You don’t leave anything to chance—nothing goes on the website without you specifically telling it to be there. The other advantage is flexibility. In Tekscan’s case, application pages needed to look different depending who they were for for.

The disadvantage? It requires more time and effort to administer this kind of site. There’s a lot we can do to make tasks as quick and easy as possible, but it ultimately falls on you as the administrator to make sure timely, up-to-date content appears in all the right places.

Complete automation: delegate everything

Is managing your organization’s website one of a dozen tasks listed on your job description? Does your deepest joy occur when someone cancels a meeting last-minute and frees up an hour of your day? If so, you might lean toward a heavily automated website—one that just works so you don’t have to think about it.

Your website can be just like having a robot servant to cook fresh, homemade.…OK, fine. It won’t be THAT cool.

An example

This was the case for our client at Plimoth Plantation, the living history museum where you can visit recreations of a 17th-century English village, a Wampanoag home, and even the Mayflower ship. Every page in their old website displayed a handful of calls to action highlighting some aspect of the museum: special events, products from the gift shop, opportunities to volunteer or donate, and so on.

At first we assumed that they would want to retain the ability to hand-pick highlights that were appropriate to the subject matter of the page, until our client told us how much she hated having to manage them—a tedious process that involved going into every page, adding the new highlights and pulling down the outdated ones.

Instead, we worked with her to establish a process that could be automated. We decided on categories of highlights—for example, Shopping, Dining, and Events—and then agreed that every page should display 6 highlights, one randomly picked from each of the categories. This approach keeps the website fresh and saves our client a ton of time. She just adds or removes a highlight in Drupal and assigns it a category; it then automatically appears throughout the site.

Pros & Cons

The advantage of automation is that it saves time. The downside is that you have to decide on, and then stick to, some rules. For example, Plimoth Plantation had to commit to 6 highlights per page, one in each category, in order to get the advantages of automation. You lose some flexibility, but save yourself a ton of tedious work.

These highlights appear automatically, liberating our client from the chore of placing them on every page.

The best of both worlds

Most of our clients fall somewhere in the middle of these two ends of the spectrum, and there are many possibilities. You always can mix and match your tools depending what area of the site you’re in, or what kind of content you’re working on. For example, you might want manual control over the display of your feature stories, but automate your news, events, and staff bios to show up where they’re supposed to. Or, we may be able to automate your website to do the bulk of your busy work, but give you ways override the system for those special cases where you need to be more persnickety.

Whatever the case—whether you want more control over your site’s content and formatting, or you’d love that job to be taken off your hands—we can make Drupal serve you almost as well as that robotic chef might. Just give us a shout!

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