Drupal Design Camp Prague - Big Plans for Designers in Drupal

Design Camp Prague was great. I met quite some people I did not know. A strange feeling to be in a Drupal crowd that was not dominated by developers... Well, actually it was not dominated by designers either. The Drupal design community consists of up to 98% of themers, or designers that know a lot about coding.

On Sunday very early in the morning (regarding the fact that the camp crowd hit the Prague nightlife really hard the night before) we had a brainstorming session about how to get more designers into the Drupal community.

Who is a designer?

Well, even trying to define what a designer is needs a consensus. Being the host of this memorable session, I tried to gear it more in the direction of artistic designers that know little or nothing about coding, the most they would know is HTML and CSS, but no PHP (run and hide). It is this group of people that are really good at aesthetics but that hate coding that Drupal sorely lacks. Concerning people that are active in the issue queue, we had a consensus in another session that you cannot count more than four in all of Drupal. (which may be wrong, but it sure feels like this).

Possible motivations for designers to get involved

The interesting thing is that a visually oriented designer (what a bad term, but I hope you understand ;) ) could gain quite a lot by participating in Drupal. Here are some ways they could:

Participate directly in Drupal:

  • Work on the redesign of drupal.org
  • Create a new theme for Drupal 8
  • Create a free theme to be hosted on drupal.org
  • Sell commercial themes from their own site ore one of the big template shops
  • Help out in UX Design of Core or contrib

What could they win?

  • Create a contrib theme that is installed on hundreds of sites, and stands out visually from other Drupal themes. Try this in WordPress - very hard, since there are so many good themes around. Much easier to do in
  • Create a contrib theme that gets installed on thousands of sites (think Acquia Marina). In contrib land it is tolerated that you put a backlink to your site in the footer.
  • Become famous
  • Become famous and be hired by a Drupal shop to do the design for the next whitehouse.gov
  • Add a new skillset to your portfolio: knowing Drupal. Not every designer hates being a themer. Learn to theme and add even another skill set to your portfolio.
  • Get rich. Drupal projects can get quite huge, and designers and themers often earn good money as all other Drupal-workers. This is a lot different in WordPress-Land.

Big Plans in Prague

We had quite some ideas how to improve the situation and how to make it easier for artistic designers to get involved in Drupal.

Designer Starter Kit: creating themes made easier

Creating Themes for Drupal is hard for a Designer coming new to Drupal. When we tried to figure out why, the main reason to us wasn't even a technical one.
As the biggest obstacle we saw that you cannot even define what Drupal is. Opposed to WordPress, which will almost always be seen as a blog system. Create a theme for WordPress - create a blog theme. You come to this idea quickly and already have a picture of the use case in your mind.

Not so with Drupal. It can be a brochureware, shopping cart, wiki, blog, social networking site, forum, news portal... where to start?
So we decided to create an install profile to cater exactly that need. While we have not fully decided which direction it will take - Blog, Brochure or just displaying core content types like http://demo.kiwi-themes.com/drupal-dev/, the general plan is layed out.

We created the Designer Starter Kit that will ultimately lead to an install profile that gives Designers an immediate starting point for their Drupal theme. Having some sample content and looking like a small site, it gives a use case. It will contain an empty theme with all files necessary to start. There will also be a Readme file and a tutorial video (or even several) how to start. If we can keep designers away from template files and start by modifying CSS only this should help a lot. It turns out the idea is not new...

Also thought to be included is a Photoshop file that contains all elements that need to be designed for Drupal: comments, author information, login block, book navigation... The plan has to prove itself as the project goes on and sure we need to find out if it is really helpful.

If you have a basic install profile for Drupal 7 with some sample content that could be useful for DSK: upload it to the issue queue of DSK, we are collecting these to compare and build one or more that are really helpful.

Creating and improving drupal.org/design

The first and most probable place to go when you want to know anything about Drupal is drupal.org. Now if you are a designer, you may look for a place that gets you started, but you won't find it. You will wind lots of theming tutorials, very technical and telling you all about page variables and preprocess functions. But if you are a designer in the aforementioned sense and are visually and artistically inspired, you will quickly come to the conclusion: "Drupal is not for me".

This has been discussed many times, and Mogdesign started an initiative in Copenhagen by announcing www.drupaldesigners.org/ in order to create a place where artistic Drupal designers could meet and exchange ideas.

Discussing this with Mogdesign, it was clear that creating a resource off of drupal.org is not the optimal way. Though d.o. puts constraints on what you can do there and consensus needs to be found with webmasters and all other people involved, the central place is more powerful and makes a lot more sense.

So what do we need to do on drupal.org/design? It could be a lot, and there is already an issue for this: www.drupal.org/node/898110 It needs to be fleshed out what is needed to welcome designers on d.o. A few ideas here:

  • Gallery of beautifully designed Drupal sites
  • Links to resources to get a quick start into designing for Drupal
  • Gallery of beautiful Drupal themes
  • Links to design-related forums, channels, and g.d.o groups
  • The page needs to be beautifully designed to appeal to visually oriented people

Create a space to contribute by uploading layouts and more

Another idea we had: the easiest way a designer can contribute is by showing a design. Just like Jeff Burnz once started: how to create a place where designers can contribute their layouts and themers offer to make Drupal themes out of them? Taking into consideration the benefits for the designers in "What could they win" above, there might be incentives to contribute a design.

What else needs to be improved to make it easier for aesthetically oriented people to get involved

  • Make it easier to upload images on d.o., especially on the issue queue. Uploading an image to the issue queue is next to impossible for someone new to d.o.
  • Offer help with CVS and Git to enable Designers to create a contrib theme on d.o.
  • lots more, you name it...

Spotlight on you

All these ideas need people to step up and make them real. A place to discuss is the Design Group on g.d.o. To really get something done, the issue queue is a better place for sure. The channel on IRC would be #drupal-design.

If you want to contribute you can also just leave a comment on this blogpost, we'll try to guide you to the right place and give help on how to get started.