Open Source CMS: Does Design Matter?

Talk to a coder/developer…it’s the keystrokes that matter. Chat with a designer/artist…it’s the brushstrokes. Get the direct mandate from the leader responsible and accountable for the success of the Web asset itself…it’s both. The user cares that a site meets their needs and expectations — which continue to rise as the Web evolves — and unconsciously they expect the experience they have there aligns with the brand and values of the organization delivering it.

For several weeks, I’ve been involved in an analysis of open source content management systems (analyze for yourself at Open Source CMS or CMS Watch) for use at a client who will be delivering on one aspect of their strategy with a new Web asset. The most amazing part of this analysis has been getting a peek behind-the-curtain on these three projects and learn something about the teams and the ecosystems around the projects. If you think there are religious wars between Windows, Linux and Macintosh, you’ve seen nothing until you read threaded discussions or talk to people who have aligned themselves behind one of these projects!

Which one did I choose and why?

In the picture above, I’ve snagged screenshots of the three contenders. Without getting in to the bits-n-bytes and talk about the plumbing (NOTE: any of the three could meet the needs of my client), let’s instead focus on cutting edge design or the lack thereof.

  • Drupal: Very pedestrian design of the project site (looks a bit cartoon-ish to me) and the templates are <yawn>…oh sorry, I’m back now.  I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that it’s been pointed out to me before that there are great sites built on Drupal (though everyone points out the same handful of sites)
  • Xoops: Most of the themes are of the PHPNuke variety (i.e., old and tired) and sites are all over the map from good to snoozeville (this tool has been around longer than the other two so there are more sites to look at)
  • Joomla: Project site itself looks great and its design is very well laid out, graphically rich and easy to understand. Themes are awesome.

Now before you flame me, I know that the presentation IS SEPARATE from the infrastructure and can be whatever a designer wants it to be. Valid point. But I said I wouldn’t get in to the bits-n-bytes and yet need to point out that the design you see at their public project sites is illustrative of the approachability of the administrative interfaces. Separation is the whole point of a content management system. All the workflow and administration functions happen behind the scenes, but if it’s too hard for designers, then the design will be a left-brain, features-over-design delivered site.

Design and usability matters. If it didn’t, all magazines would be white pages with text and all web pages would look like this one. We wouldn’t need all those pesky, nicely designed graphical user interfaces if we just used this one. There’s a reason why Disney has very tight security around cast members taking photos in the tunnels underground or behind the scenes: the magic happens in the park and THAT is the user experience. They want to keep the rest hidden from view.

So I’ve chosen Joomla. Combination of the right plumbing, great design and a community around them that gets it.

You want to get some great pointers on Web design? I am REALLY loving Ben Hunt’s site that is a phenomenal reference for next generation web design…of which Joomla is in spades. Hey…I’m just one guy with an arguably pedestrian blog design, but I know that design matters and others agree here, here, here and here.


  1. joomla sensay on October 11, 2006 at 2:10 am

    I think that Joomla and Drupal are better than Xoops.

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About Steve Borsch

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Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.