Stu Macik, Broken Sky Studio Web Design and Development, Denver, Colorado
I like to be honest about where I sit before I espouse where I stand so I want to be up-front with the fact that at Broken Sky Studio (our website design, development and technology company) we perform custom website design and development (from the ground up) as opposed to some other theme driven CMS alternatives.
I mention this because I’ve been asked several times lately about how the kind of custom design and development work that we do is different from CMS (content management system) alternatives using WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, and others that have come to the web over the past few years.
In a nutshell, CMS based websites are the “fast food” of the website world. That is to say that sites built on these platforms can generally be accomplished quickly and cheaply by just about anyone with a computer because they’re “ready to eat” (so to speak) right out of the box. In fact, all of the CMS’s I mentioned above are free to download, install and use by anyone.
Any novice can have a basic, pre-themed website up and running within a couple of hours by following some fairly simple set-up instructions and cutting and pasting in content. In fact, Go-Daddy has a “one click” set-up for WordPress, Drupal and Joomla that will even install a database for you. So you see, it just doesn’t get much easier if you want a “do it yourself” website. This is great for anyone needing something simple and cheap and can make a lot of sense for a very small business or start-up without a marketing budget to spend on a professional site.
On the flip-side however, while a CMS may be cheap, fast and easy the downside can outweigh the upside if you’re a small to medium sized business looking for exceptional results from your website.
Why? Compared to custom built websites, CMS’s use themes that determine the look and feel of the websites they create. This means that you’re stuck with the look of whatever theme it is that you use and while there are a lot of free themes out there, you get what you pay for in that there is absolutely nothing about any free theme that can approach the effectiveness of a site that was designed and developed by a professional specifically for your business. In the case of Drupal and Joomla many of the available themes are downright ugly and look like they were designed six or seven years ago. They really do look “out of place” when observing the aesthetics and usability of more modern looking websites. Also you have to consider that because all of these are themes, they’re available to anyone and so you could wind up with a website that looks exactly like the many others who have chosen the same theme.
Another downside to CMS’s as opposed to custom design and development is that the code base of all of the CMS’s have been designed to cover functionality that you might never use which, in plain terms, means that there is a lot of what developers call “bloated code” associated with a CMS site that can slow down page load times and make any kind of customization very difficult even for those with experience coding sites.
I can say from personal experience with Drupal and Joomla that bloated spaghetti code is indeed the norm with CMS’s although I have found WordPress to be much more streamlined and usable from a code perspective. In fact, I think WordPress is an excellent blogging platform and I use it occasionally for that purpose. The idea of using it to create full websites though just doesn’t make sense to me when a custom, tailored design can actually be implemented from scratch much more efficiently than going in and changing existing code. It’s one of the reasons why we don’t “fix” existing websites at Broken Sky because it’s much more difficult to work with (someone else’s) existing code than it is to build a new site with a predictable, solid code base from the ground up.
At any rate, with custom design and development you get the unique look and feel that you really want for your business along with the exact functionality and code you need, nothing less and nothing more. This, in my opinion, gives custom design and development a huge advantage for businesses with the budget to hire a professional to build their site from the ground up, rather than relying on an out of the box product.