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

I don’t know what the last time you ordered a pizza online was, but someone in Domino’s Pizza’s marketing and/or web department needs a raise. The site is full of completely awesome copy. For instance: when you choose toppings for a pizza, they are divided into two categories:

  • meats
  • unmeats

This is a distinction I fully support.

When creating a pizza using their ordering interface, there is some fine print under the graphical representation of your pizza. (The graphical representation is also awesome; it is a photograph that reflects as you check on toppings/crusts what your final pizza will resemble.) The text reads:

The Pizza Builder will always show a large pizza. If you choose a different size, the topping amounts will vary. The deliciousness, however, will not.

This is a delightfully snarky way to tell you that they aren’t about to make a whole bunch of different graphics just to show you what will be on your pizza. Creative.

At the bottom of the screen is some text speaking about their 30-minute promise. It says:

Because safety is a priority, “You Got 30 Minutes™” is not a guarantee, but an estimate. You may get more.

Once again, we have what amounts to normally boring copy (legal instead of technical this time), but it’s been given a human flavor and just a little bit of an attitude. There’s personality behind this web copy, something I think is very important and should be rewarded. “You may get more” is funny in a direct way.

When you place your order, you also get to see using a “tracking service” where your pizza is in the creation process, including when it leaves the store to be delivered to your house. It even includes the names of the employees responsible for their parts in the process. It adds an unmistakably personal touch to the process of ordering a pizza on a web site—which by its very nature is an impersonal process.

Hats off.

What about you? Have you ever had an experience with a web site for a store or establishment that goes that extra mile to make things feel more personal and connected? Do you prefer a formal, business-language approach, or something that’s more informal and down-to-earth?