Design

Soft launch & why Craft CMS is cool

May 23, 2015

After more than 6 months of overtime work, my new site is finally here. This site was front-end developed by Quinton Mosley (thanks so much Quinton!) and I did the back-end development in Craft CMS. More accurately, I was able to tweak their demo site to fit my needs. This is the extent of my experience with Craft and Twig templating, but I was able to pick up the basics along the way. My trusted development partner Two Six Code helped me create the seemingly random home entry grid.

My previous back-end development experience is with ExpressionEngine, in which I've developed a couple of sites (though I'm by no means an expert in that either). So far my impression of Craft is wonderful.

Six ways craft rocks

Twig templating. Having your CMS spit out code is weird. Like EE (and unlike WordPress or Drupal), Craft lets you get as "artisanal" as you want with your front-end code. This also keeps the code clean and lean. And my short experience with Twig suggests that it's an easy templating language that any fool can learn.

Designed for custom content types. In WordPress, custom content types take an extra step and a dash of voodoo. No big deal, people do it all the time. But what bothers me more is that the backend doesn't seem to have "room" for multiple content types. They all appear on that list to the left, which gets longer and more unwieldy as content types get added. Nothing like the back-end cleanliness of a CMS like EE, Drupal or Craft. It's much more intuitive.

Everything you need for a basic site, out of the box. EE, WP and Drupal do little out of the box, and rely on a series of must-use plugins/modules to create a basic site. In the case of EE, where plugins are paid, it adds up. Those vendors do offer amazing support, though. In the case of WP, where plugins are free, you're faced with sometimes rickety or outdated plugins that don't play well with each other and whose developers can't be reached for comment. At least Drupal has a recommendation system for the most stable and mature plugins. In Craft, repeatable and relationship fields, image galleries, a proper WYSIWYG editor, versioning, image manipulation and cropping tools and everything you need to make a half-decent site all come out of the box.

Text can be interspersed with callouts, edge-to-edge images, image galleries, edge-to-edge color backgrounds, and more, as I'm showing in this very article.

Matrix field, squared. EE has the Matrix plugin—created Pixel & Tonic, creators of Craft—that allows you to do repeatable fields. Craft's Matrix field is much more advanced: it can contain many different kinds of fields, or even field groups, that content editors can choose from and reorder as needed. This means text can be interspersed with callouts, edge-to-edge images, image galleries, edge-to-edge color backgrounds, and more, as I'm showing in this very article. Note that WordPress now has a similar plugin.

This Matrix field is blowing my mind!

Maria

One-click update. Like WordPress, and unlike Drupal and EE, Craft updates with a single click. Yes please.

Support. I ran into several issues while developing this site, and the good people at Craft Stack Exchange weren't able to help. So I contacted support at Pixel & Tonic and guess what, a human being—a helpful one—responded. Yay.

High-profile ExpressionEngine shops such as HappyCog and Viget are moving to Craft. I'd be curious to know if long-time EE shop Blue State Digital is switching as well. If you know, send me an email.

Two downsides

Hard sell. Craft CMS is still young and obscure. Clients want the tried-and-true, which most often than not means WordPress. Having said that, Craft's got some impressive backers. High-profile ExpressionEngine shops such as HappyCog and Viget are moving to Craft. I'd be curious to know if long-time EE shop Blue State Digital is switching as well. If you know, send me an email.

Not a lot of plugins. As I described above, much of what you'll need for a standard site comes included. But if you need anything more specialized, you'll need plugins. Because it's so young, there aren't a lot of Craft plugins available yet—but this seems to be changing fast. For this site, the needed plugin was available. It's LJ Mobile Detect, a plugin that detects mobile devices server-side.

In conclusion

It seems to me that any CMS is inevitably saddled with a legacy. If it's been around for ever, it can't just reinvent itself from scratch, specially if it's open-source. Plus some systems are saddled by conflicting purposes. WordPress is both a CMS and the world's most popular and super-simple blogging platform. It's hard to do both of those things exceedingly well. Craft was created recently, from scratch, and addresses common complaints of other CMSs (specially EE since that's their background). It's based on contemporary needs and workflows. One day, I suppose, Craft may too be saddled by its legacy. For now, it's just right.


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