Notes for “Is WordPress Killing Web Design?”

Moderated by Dan Oliver

Panel: Jina Bolton designer @ crush+lovely; Brendan Dawes, Creative Director @ magneticNorth; Dan Mall, Senior Designer @ Big Spaceship; Shane Mielke, Creative Director @ 2Advanced

Abstract: Is WordPress killing web design? Leading creatives from the world of web design debate whether CMS tools have made designers lazy, and created a new set of design conventions that designers feel obliged to follow.


  • Not just talking about WordPress – all CMS platforms
  • What is the problem with designing with a CMS?
    • Some people say it makes designers lazy
    • WordPress is something everyone on this panel has used
    • Problem – when people lock on to it as a sort of sitemap or a planning tool for what you will design
      • Focus on the tool over the design
      • Not all sites need to feel like they have a CMS behind them (and shouldn’t)
    • What’s killing web design is a lack of imagination, not an abundance of tools
    • Dawes – WordPress not for large sites with lots of different types of content
    • Bolton – left WordPress for a while because it wasn’t enough for desired use and began using Reflect (never released) and on a site relaunch decided instead to go back to WordPress – known quantity, easier to make what she wanted
      • WordPress is *not* difficult to customize – documentation is out there
  • Moderator comment – WordPress has made web publishing ubiquitous and this is a good thing – Are designers becoming too reliant on CMS themes?
    • Mall – CMSes remove a lot of the overhead for people starting something; designers sometimes just default to a theme and then try to squeeze that theme into what they are trying to do
    • Dawes – this depends on the situation: themes are really good for people who don’t know how to code and can’t make their own designs; how you say something is as important as what you say, and themes take the personality of the site away – it’s not something that expresses you
    • Dawes – WordPress takes the pain away from content management
    • Mielke – Impressed by any sort of creativity that makes you wonder how something was done and obscures the tools used in order to make it
  • Moderator – when building a site, there’s a lot of broken apart duties – do CMS tools widen the gap between graphic and web design?
    • Mall – helps people who might not know much about Web design to get the gist with very little work – enables play
    • Dawes – where the more interesting work is being done is with designers who also use coding as part of their toolset – these people are hard to find; thinks there is a problem with people who come from print trying to impose their concepts on web design (big fonts)
    • Bolton: a perception issue – if you want to think of the CMS as a constraint, then it will be
  • Moderator: what have the major effects of CMS tools been on web design?
    • Mielke – we emulate others – if the big people out there have simplistic CMS-tool-looking sites, then other people are going to do the same – not as much diversity in design anymore anyway, not necessarily because of CMS use
    • Dawes – little design touches are what make the experience for people – design in general has become homogenous – users don’t necessarily care what the CMS is, they are only looking at the front-end
  • Modreator – have CMS tools such as WordPress made web design homogeneous?
    • consensus seems to be yes, but not because of the CMS
  • Moderator – what can we do to inject new life into web design?
    • Bolton – Art in My Coffee – gets a lot of questions about how that’s a Tumblr site – use CSS to your advantage
    • Mall – designers should get away from the computer and create things that aren’t necessarily digital once in a while; don’t be afraid to screw something up
    • Bolton – if you have other skillsets, try to find ways to bring that into your design work – it adds an investment and a personal touch
    • Dawes – read about things that you know nothing about – broader your horizons
    • Mielke – one web site can’t possibly express everything about you at once – have more than one and practice on each
  • Moderator – what’s to blame for increased use of CMS tools by web designers?
    • Mall – sometimes it’s because it’s easiest for the user to figure it out – should have more reasoning behind the choice than your own comfortability
    • Dawes – where it goes wrong is when the CMS begins making demands on the design
  • Moderator – as experienced designers, what can you do to improve things?
    • Dawes – if your frame of reference is wide and you are learning new things every day, you have the ability to do good things – read things that increase your knowledge, and not just about design – curiosity
    • Mielke – personality is the key – have one and put it into your designs
    • Mall – one question asked in every interview – if you are singing karaoke and closing out the night, what song would you sing – this showcases people’s personality and creativity
  • Moderator – how do you stay creative?
    • Mielke – pursue your other interests and hobbies because they enhance the other things you do, including design
    • Mall – the emerging theme here is to express yourself and be yourself – tap into your creativity and personality
    • Dawes – slow down, don’t go from A to B as quickly as possible all the time

6 comments on “Notes for “Is WordPress Killing Web Design?”

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  1. It was good to read this:
    “WordPress not for large sites with lots of different types of content”

    I’m so tired of people who think they can save money by eliminating web-tech jobs and get away with a WordPress install like it’s the same thing as a multi-layered site with various mediums.

    1. This is one thing in the presentation that I very much disagreed with; I find that it’s a matter of knowing how to work effectively with the CMS in question to be able to develop with it for large sites with content diversification – it can be done, but it can’t be done lazily and means that there’s still a market for people who do design for a living. It’s just that their skill set is changing.

  2. There’s a mentality out there, that if you can install WP and setup a theme you can replace your website designer. This is the the type of person I’m referring to in my original content. I also haven’t seen WP leveraged in such a way that you provide visitors with media subscriptions and services of that sort, which is the next evolution from direct content delivery. I’m not trying to bash WP, it’s a great app – but I am tired of the super-hero mentality, “I installed WP, so now I can apply for a job on the Ladders.”

  3. Not really, cause you either choose to have a website or have a WP blog. A blog cannot cover all the important leads you need on a website in order to convert traffic into sales, it’s just for communication.

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