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Designing Joomla! Websites - Form vs Functionality

Written by | Friday, 01 June 2012 00:00 | Published in 2012 June
I have found that as designers we are sometimes conflicted by the choice between form or functionality of a websites that we design. To capture or maintain the client’s glossy and shiny look-and-feel of the website, can easily overshadow the functionality of the same site. Finding a balance here can be tricky.

Educating your client about the CMS is one thing, but telling them that you cannot capture their high-gloss and shine due to either your own lack of design skill or the CMS’s limitations, will not gain you any favour with the client. So you have to balance three elements - design, client’s branding and function. What do you do?

Well this is not such a huge conundrum as it may sound or seem. 

1. Communication with the client

I think that communicating with your client about the enmity between form and function. In this conversation, you need to emphasis that functionality of the site, always takes precedence over form (high-gloss and shine). This does not mean that the site must/will look ugly. You need to educate your client that the reason we use CMS is to ensure high functionality and ease of use on/of the website.

2. Beauty / design is king

Of course any design can be converted into a Joomla! CMS website and if this means outsourcing the job of converting a high-gloss Photoshop file to a template-maker, then so be it. It is important to ensure that the CMS marries if it does not enhance and elevate the client’s branding and image. So while it may be a pain to convert that design into Joomla!-compatible file(s), it will gain you favour with you client. Also, as techies, we do not really pay attention to the aesthetic element of the client’s branding and how this reflects on/into a CMS site. We tend to focus more on functionality more than on how good the website looks in the end.

3. Audit the client’s needs

Documenting your client’s needs (update content, comments system, a newsletter, job board etc) and then searching for add-ons that will meet each of these needs is extremely important. Is your client an HR agency? Do they want to take candidate’s CVs online or not? Are they going to send these candidates regular newsletters and updates? If so, how often?

The next step will be to prioritise these needs with your client and then bring the cost into the discussion. Are you buying premium add-ons or are you going the free route? Does the client really need all the functionalities or are some just luxuries? If so why. Once you have prioritised the functionalities, you can then take to the shops to get the highest quality add-ons and testing them on your client’s site.

4. Strike the balance

Functionality is important, so is beauty or aesthetic appeal of the site. It is this aesthetic element that captures the brand essence of the client. So it cannot be a secondary factor. So how do you strike the balance?

Well, you need to choose the components, modules and plugins that will achieve the functionality very, very well. And then you also need to ensure that you choose the template or your converted design very very well. The latter is important as most clients will want the website that speaks to their brand ethos.

These two complement each other, so you cannot do one without the other. Ask yourself a few questions … How would this component look on this site? Is it easy to customise its look and feel? Or will it inherit my template’s styling easily and properly? Do you really need all this fancy functionality or can the site do with the most basic installations and add-ons? Or do I need to get new add-ons developed for my client? What are the cost implications for this?

Conclusion

There is no excuse for ugly-looking but high-performance websites. CMS can look good and Joomla is at the forefront of this trend. The time for websites and applications built by programmers with a limited design eye is over. In order to foster confidence in your client and your Joomla development capability, it is in your best interest to not only overload the website with lots of cool functionality, but to also make it look wonderful. Imagine a seriously scrappy-looking car with a bad paint job, but drives like a dream. This will not sell well to your client. It is important to strike a balance here. It might be difficult, but it is possible.
Happy designing ...

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