How Ganson streamlines Drupal 8 development for nonprofits and higher ed


Here at the Loom, designing beautiful, streamlined websites is not enough for us—we also want the process by which we build them to be beautiful and streamlined. That’s why we’ve created Ganson, our in-house Drupal distribution that is now the foundation for all of our new Drupal 8 sites.

What is a Drupal distribution?

As you may know, Drupal is insanely flexible. It has thousands of modules you can download to add features and functionality, and anybody can write their own. You can set up templates for any kind of content you can imagine. There are dozens of kinds of media you can add, everything from images to Soundcloud files to Tweets. You can make it look beautiful and unique using custom themes.

With all this flexibility, there is not really one “standard” Drupal. Every developer makes choices about what features they will include, or not include.

A Drupal distribution is a curated set of features for a particular purpose. For example, an online magazine and a sports team might both have Drupal sites, but they probably need very different features. A distribution lets you build those particular features once, and reuse them again and again.

Why create a distribution?

Our main motivation is that it lets us consistently deliver high quality while cutting down on repetitive work. We work primarily with nonprofit organizations, colleges, and universities. While no two of our clients are exactly alike, they do have many similarities. For example, about 80% of our clients’ websites contain some combination of:

  • News, including media mentions and press releases
  • Events
  • Blogs
  • Publications
  • Bios (for staff, board, students, faculty, etc.)

Let’s take Bios as one example. At the very least, they are going to need fields for the person’s name, title, contact info, bio, and headshot. Why should we build out these same fields from scratch on every new website? A distribution lets us build them once, reuse them on every site, and still customize each site when needed. Maybe one client needs their bios to include space for awards that person has won, while another may need to link to courses that person teaches. No problem!

Our distribution also includes lots of modules that we know every client is going to need and want. For example, everybody needs SEO tools, so we install and configure those tools in our distribution. Lo and behold, every site we build has those tools ready to go.

Lastly, a distribution lets us reuse chunks of code that we'll need to apply your site's custom design. Like the code that makes your videos responsive, or lays out content in a multi-column grid. No need to reinvent the wheel every time.

What features are in Ganson?

So many things. The features below give us a great starting point, and can be customized for each client.

  • Content templates and data structures that meet our clients' most common needs.
  • An awesome media library, enhanced by our favorite contributed modules and some custom code.
  • Web accessibility requirements baked in, like keyboard navigation, a “skip to main content” link, accessible menus, required alt text … you get the idea. This is a big deal since most of our clients are mandated to provide sites that meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
  • A souped-up WYSIWYG editor with the correct styles and tools enabled.
  • Standard responsive theming code, such as various grid layouts, responsive tables, and responsive video.
  • A style guide, content guidelines, and Drupal documentation built into the site.
  • Optional sample content to get you started, and help us test the site before your real content is in.

How does it benefit nonprofits, colleges, and universities?

Building websites on Ganson has a few great benefits to our nonprofit and higher education clients.

  • Features you’ll need are there before we even start building your site. We hope that it gives you peace of mind to know that we've already thought about important aspects of your site—like content structure, accessibility, the user experience of the admin interface, and responsive theming—so there are no unpleasant surprises on your project.
  • Your budget can go farther, because we are not spending time on busy work with each build. We can devote more of your budget to the special features and custom work that are unique to your organization.
  • Ganson will makes updates and future maintenance easier. All sites that we build on Ganson and host on Pantheon are connected to a Pantheon “upstream.” This lets us roll out updates or new features once to all our Ganson-driven sites. That means efficiency, higher quality, and cost savings for you.

Why is it named “Ganson”?

Our distribution is named after Arthur Ganson, an artist who creates extremely cool mechanical sculptures. (I love how Wikipedia describes them: “Rube Goldberg machines with existential themes.") Go check them out at the MIT Museum if you’re in the Boston area. Here is a video showing one of my personal favorites, Machine with 23 Scraps of Paper.

Arthur Ganson’s work represents the level of creativity, cleverness, and technical precision that we aspire to. So it's no surprise that when our team was voting on a name, "Ganson" won.

Will Ganson be released to the Drupal community?

Probably! It’s relatively new, and we just launched our first site on Ganson, the Seeger Center for Hellenic Studies at Princeton University. We are building more sites on it now. Once we battle test it on a few more real-world websites and refine it further, we will likely release it to the community.

Interested in Drupal 8? Talk to us.

In the meantime, if you are interested in knowing more about Ganson or learning how it could benefit your next project or Drupal 8 upgrade, talk to us. We’re happy to show you around it some more and see how it can benefit you.

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