Latest thoughts

an answer on Quora about drupal

Adam Davis said:

I want to share an answer with you.

Question: “Is it better to create your own CMS or to use Drupal when we have to implement a lot of self-made applications?”

Answer: “I think it’s oversimplifying the answer to say Drupal saves work or time (or to say doesn’t). Sure, Drupal can get you up and running with a website quickly, and probably with 90% of the functionality you need with core and contributed modules. But your website will probably look and behave like 90% of websites out there. That can be ok. But I have often found that making simple changes or customisations in Drupal can take far longer than they would in a well documented/understood PHP application built around a code library or framework. Add to that the time you need to dedicate to testing and applying security updates to core and modules and your access to knowledgable Drupal resources – you will have a lot more to consider in making your choice.

I think Drupal is a powerful framework, and I use it for many projects. But here are a number of caveats to using Drupal that I have come across in the last few years of using it. These mostly apply to developers who are capable of programming and developing advanced functionality, and for whom the choice of a bespoke CMS or Drupal is a real feasible possibility. If you are not a developer, or don’t have access to developer resources, you need a ready-to-go CMS like Drupal or WordPress.

  • If you want your site to be different, the developing the remaining 10% functionality can be a hellish journey for developers using Drupal. Custom module development for Drupal is not for the light hearted. It involves developing with a level of abstraction from native PHP and bending modules and core functionality that is in some parts poorly documented, and in others goes against best practices you may have learned as a developer. Drupal does things its own way, and the sooner you learn that, the sooner you will be closer to productive with it. If you take this path, developers, get to know the hook system and the theming system.
  • Customising Themes (Drupal’s presentation layer) can feel unreasonably complex to the front end web developer or web designer that is used to a more transparent and simple system. Combine core themes with the good contributed modules like Panels and Views and it gets really messy for front end developers who are used to clean and semantic code. Lots of divs. I have often come across developers’ work on a project that has in frustration hacked around Drupal’s logic to get the desired result in the time available. One has to ask, why use Drupal if all you’re doing is spending more time getting around the way it does stuff?
  • Customising contributed Modules is difficult as there is often no way to extend functionality the way you can with a more object-oriented architecture. This can be a real frustration when you just want to alter a module slightly for your own purposes, and not break maintainability from the contributing 3rd party for security releases an updates.
  • Drupal can be difficult for developers to maintain, migrate or deploy as much of the functionality is often a combination of untraceable checkbox configurations in the admin interface of the website. As I understand it, this is core to Drupal’s goals – to allow people to make websites without having to touch code – but the result is it can to great lengths to ‘protect’ the user from code, making it difficult to manage interfaces where a quick line of code qould do it. It’s hard for developers to work like this, as it feels like your hands are tied. The lack of traceability of work and code mentioned above can be mitigated using CTools Exportables – which some modules support. There are also contributed modules like Features that assist in deployment. It’s all a different way of thinking when you are used to deploying from a branch of your repos. I find using a development instance of Drupal and using these tools to export to a build instance is the best solution for this.
  • Generally, someone with technical capacity is required to manage and set up the more complex aspects of a Drupal application (Views, CCK, Panels, Nodequeue, etc are all good Modules, but are difficult for the average admin/editorial user to grasp). Often this job will fall to a web developer and in my experience this can result in frustrated and unhappy developers who would prefer to be coding than ticking a combination of checkboxes.
  • Drupal (like any system) requires maintenance. There are security updates for core and contributed modules released regularly. Applying these to your live site can be risky and time consuming.

Obviously the more you know your tools, the better you can use them. If you are a proficient developer and you have some bespoke requirements, or prefer to be hands-on with code – write your own code, follow good practices and document it well. If your site fits into the 90% generic category, use Drupal (or similar) and extend it where necessary. If you want a bespoke Drupal site, you can get to know how its code works (it is open and extendible after all), but be prepared for learning a whole new dialect of PHP.

If you are not a developer, and have access to technical resources make the decision in collaboration with those resources. You will want them to be happy creating your product. A happy developer is more likely to be productive.

If you have few technical resources, recognise the limitations of what you are going to be able to do and use Drupal or similar.”

To see this answer, visit:

dConstruct 2011 Frank Chimero. Oh God, It’s Full of Stars

Frank Chimero provided an inspiring talk on our relationship with the trail of digital artefacts we have personally collected over years of internet use. How can we make these collections more personal? How can we make them tell a story and reflect their owners in the way a diary or commonplace book would in the 19th Century? (Spoiler: he doesn’t know. But that’s what makes this an exciting challenge)

Delightful design

Left a trail of stuff I have tagged, starred, etc.

Analog vs digital

Visible – invisible Remember – forget find – search own – access

Analog = or Digital = and

Digital Extends into the services we use. Analogue is The Palpable stack

Digital is a phantom pile. Still a presence to it that burns cycles to my brain There is a latent potential in this collection of stars.

It’s valuable to have stuff. In one place. They can co-mingle.

Commonplace books used by gentlemen of past. The book becomes stamped with your personality.

“Curation is authorship.” – Paul saffo Produce and consume in the same act.

Missing one key thing with digital. The architecture of serendipity. Have to find the content in a book. A YouTube hole does this.

Architecture of arrangement.

Curation. Find and collect. On the web we are missing arrangement. Need to take a second pass to make a narrative experience.

Tools are optimising for getting things in.

Stars can be constellations. Connecting separate things, creating a shape and imbuing it with a meaning.

Som big design decisions – reassess how we sort stuff.

Searching vs finding for old or new stuff

How do we arrange things spatially? Linear blocky layout is limiting.

The properties of digital. Infinitely mutable.

how we move through time

Content can timeshift. Eg. Instapaper. Postpones. It’s aspirational. Instapaper is a time machine. It goes both ways. Future and past.

There are enough footprints that we can bubble it up and bring it to the present.

See. Photojojo.

media supported.

We need to be multi media See the NY Library Biblion iPad app.

Why not Biblion my own collection too?

Ancient Greeks used the flattened surface of the sky to tell and overlay stories. Can we do the same with our collections of stars?

dConstruct 2011 Kelly Goto. Beyond Usability: Mapping Emotion to Experience

Kelly Goto is a design ethnographer. She had a lot to say about designing things, approaches to finding the emotional charactersitics that make people respond, and many interesting examples. She almost had too much to say… She rushed the last part of her talk, just as she was bringing all the threads together into an explanation of a coherent design research methodology.

Here is some of what she covered:


We are trying to be connected to the materials we design.

She tells the story of her children going through a hospital experience, and how that made her really want to make a difference to medical interfaces.

Connected experiences

Connections between things, devices and lifestyles and products for creating change in behaviour.

Connection=meaning, Systematic and connected. Systems are connected things

addiction and fun

We want you to create addictive experiences

How can we evolve back from stooped computer beings to people with open, good posture? Open to real physical interaction, being physical together is being connected. Posture.

Functional, usable, pleasurable.

Understanding people’s rituals is the key to understanding an addictive experience.


Example of the fun and effortlessness of driving a mini. Mood is so important. Context is everything. Experience, trust. Relates to brand. Human machine communication. Efficiency. Usability.

Challenge is to make machine to human communications fun.


Focus groups don’t give accurate information. Observation in context provides more rich understanding of complex things like lifestyle and emotion.

Break down the experience into emotional functional comfort.

beyond usable

We are now at the point that things should at a baseline, function. We have moved up mazlows hierarchy of needs. Usability is covered, we can start thinking about some of the higher values.

sensory engineering

(And this is where it started getting a bit rushed)

Kensei engineering.

People Input sensory and knowledge. Moved Demographics Psychographics Emotional

Contextual interviews

“Deep hanging out” allows researchers to discover emotions.

experience mapping

Identity public private Satisfaction wonder comfort connection Context timeline Understand hidden needs

Kensei Aware, unaware.

We have to understand the spacing in between things and understand connections and lifestyle.

I hope she posts her slides sometime, it was hard to get the last 10 minutes of her talk, but plenty keywords to thing about.