Joomla, Templated Design and the Danger to Online Creativity

While the rest of the political world has absorbing Obama’s South Carolina victory/Ted Kennedy endorsement two-fer, e.politics has been following a different obsession — I’ve been experimenting with my first open source content management system installation. This weekend, I got Joomla up and running on a test site where I can blow things up with great abandon and see what makes this sucker tick. So far, I’m impressed, since even out of the box it’s more than adequate for the kind of issue advocacy sites I’m starting to build clients these days (bidness has started coming in nicely, a source of some relief here in the e.politics bunker).

The one danger I can see with these template-driven CMS’s is how easy they make it to crank out sites that end up all looking pretty much alike. These days, I seem to see fewer and fewer distinctively designed sites — new sites often have lots of interesting functions and applications built in, but too often their actual appearance feels cookie-cutter. I’m sure that in part it’s just the growing base of experience among web developers: after more than a decade of heavy web use, we have a good idea of what works, and sites tend to look alike for the same reasons that aerodynamic design leads to cars that tend to look alike.

Still, I’d hate to get into the habit of reusing templates over and over for different sites (with relatively minor changes to graphics and colors) without much regard for a site’s actual purpose and audience. And, I’d also hate to see quirky, interesting visual design disappear online. Distinctive layouts can and should coexist with prepackaged technology, but only if we bother to take the time to make it happen.


Written by
Colin Delany
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  • Wow, i was going to mention Drupal too, but I guess I was beat to it…

    I agree with you 100%, Colin. The major plus to templating systems is the control it gives to an administrator to control on the back end. They have greatly lowered the barrier to entry for many non-technical individuals to customize the look and feel of a website without having to PHP (or what ever language the website is programmed in).

  • I am happy to report that in the 15 or so Joomla websites my company has built, we’ve developed all of our templates from scratch and they all look completely different (see, and I understand that as a newbie, templates are the easiest way to get started, but for anyone with basic HTML/CSS experience and some patience with Joomla Forums and tutorials, you can make a Joomla website look like anything.