When we recently redesigned our website to mark Trifecta Technologies’ 25th anniversary, we took a step back to plan everything from the ground up – including which content management system we wanted to use.
Our previous website was built with WordPress, but we wanted to consider additional CMS options. We started researching Craft CMS, a modern content management system that was recently voted “Best CMS for Developers” in CMS Critic’s People’s Choice Awards.
We ultimately decided to use Craft for three reasons:
- It’s highly customizable – As a technology company, we wanted complete freedom in our design and development.
- It’s user-friendly – Since the CMS is configured as the page templates are developed, the admin can be built with usability in mind, so that a talented non-technical team can easily manage a website with a minimal learning curve.
- It’s secure and reliable – Craft is more secure than many other CMS options, largely due to the high quality of its plugins.
We plan to share articles on each topic, but for now, let’s take a look at the first – developing with Craft.
The techie stuff
The first thing to understand about Craft – and one of the things we like most about it – is that it’s a blank slate. Unlike other common CMS options, Craft provides a few useful defaults – and that’s it. No themes or preset designs that junk up your code – just a set of clean HTML templates.
This is particularly important for developers because when another CMS provides a bunch of presets, it takes time to remove or disable everything that isn’t needed – often longer than it takes to build the template from the ground up. Plus, the cleanliness of Craft’s Twig templates allowed us to build everything ourselves, with no presets getting in the way.
All of this boils down to Craft being highly customizable – it doesn’t impose its own ideas for templates, page layouts, and admin configuration. Instead, it gives the ability to build any design, along with room to grow as a company’s needs expand.
Remember how Craft gives developers a set of clean HTML templates and nothing else? Well, the admin interface is the same – it is configured from the ground up so that it can be customized to an exact design and end-user.
This means that there is some up-front configuration work in the admin, but it’s worth it. Rather than being stuck with basic fields with vague labels like “Short Description” and “Long Description,” fields can be labeled precisely, in a way that accurately reflects what content they are controlling on the webpage.
In Trifecta’s case, we had one developer and one content manager configuring the admin. As page designs were completed, the content manager created and labeled fields with ease-of-use in mind, and then the developer used those field handles in the page template.
An example of Craft helping to streamline development is the matrix field, which is actually a group of fields that can be used repeatedly on the same page. So, if a design calls for a particular block of content to repeat, the matrix can be configured and coded once. Then, as a content manager adds matrix blocks, it pulls the same code. A good example is the Leadership section of our About page.
Note that the photo and biography information repeats, although the content changes. So, we configured a matrix for the leadership section and simply repeated the matrix three times.
We appreciate Craft’s ability to be more of an author experience tool than a simple CMS. We are planning a full article on configuring the admin, so keep an eye out for Part 2 of our series.
Craft has a growing number of high-quality, open-source plugins. They add varying types of functionality, like dashboard widgets, admin functions, and front-end functionality. A few of the plugins we use are:
- Blueprint: Shows an overview of all defined content, such as fields, sections, and assets
- Pimp My Matrix: Helps organize content by providing the ability to group block types into a single matrix
- SEO: Manage link redirects and sitemap directly from the admin
Frequent Updates and Support
Pixel & Tonic – the team that created Craft – is constantly working to add new features. There are updates about once a week, which are easily completed from the admin. And when you begin an update, Craft automatically backs up your database.
If you find a bug or just can’t figure something out, Craft has a great support staff, too. You can report an issue directly from the admin, and the Craft team is quick to respond via Twitter and email.
It’s also easy to experiment with Craft, because a personal license is free. We tried Craft for a while before buying a Pro license and building Trifecta Technologies’ website, and that trial gave us time to decide that Craft was the right tool for us.