Drupal Themes

Frequently, a new content editor will ask me if they can change the BSOE theme, or choose a different theme for the site they are editing.  The owner of the site (which is usually a staff or faculty member) can choose to use a different Drupal theme in most cases.  However, I strongly discourage this for several reasons:

  • Content editors come and go but web sites have to persist across quarters and years.  If each new content editor that comes along decides that their site should use a different theme, there will not be any continuity from one content editor to the next and training the next set of content editors is harder if every web site has a different theme.
  • Developing a Drupal theme takes considerable HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP and Drupal expertise and an extensive familiarity with the differences between different web browsers and operating systems.  Creating such a theme comes with the possibility of opening up weaknesses that might allow someone to hack their way in to a web site.  Making a theme that is cross-browser and cross-platform compatible is hard and tedious.  Making a theme that is accessible to people with disabilities is also hard and requires specialized knowledge of ADA Section 508 compliance and best practices.
  • We are trying to develop a BSOE "brand" across all our web sites to foster recognition of the BSOE on the Internet.  If each site is allowed a custom Drupal theme, we loose most of that branding.
  • Creating and maintaining content on a web site is hard and requires a concerted effort on the part of the content editors.  If content editors expend a lot of their energy on developing a new Drupal theme, the web site will probably look pretty but have no real content on it.

Many organizations spend tens of thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours developing a pretty web site and a comparatively minuscule amount of time and effort developing their site content.  These sites invariably fail because nobody wants to go to a web site that is pretty but has no content.

In the past, when groups have selected a new "web person", that person frequently gets excited about the prospect of creating a web site.  They have grandiose ideas about developing a new look and feel and then proceed to get their hands dirty and realize that building a web site is a lot harder than they realized.  These web sites often end up incomplete and neglected.

It is better to build and maintain a web site with lots of relevant content and leave the graphic design to professional graphic artists and web site administration to professional web site administrators than it is to create ad-hoc one-off Drupal themes.

Build a web site with lots of relevant content.  Spend your energy telling the world about what it is you do and how you're doing it.  Hold off on developing a new Drupal theme until the time comes that your web site has thousands of visitors per day and your group has the budget to hire professionals to develop the theme for you.