Hi-fi and Lo-fi Theming

Ec22e44f42ead4dcc88d8e1068a76022?s=47 meghan p.
November 04, 2012

Hi-fi and Lo-fi Theming

Drupal sites can look like anything, but some of the most 'Drupally' things about them are either commonly overlooked or are a pain to change. Trying to implement designs that are counterintuitive to Drupal's patterns can be frustrating and very expensive, especially when there are ways to work with Drupal without sacrificing design control.


When designs neglect or disregard certain bits and pieces that are common on most sites, they become missed opportunities and can create visual inconsistencies in the overall look. With diligence and planning, designers and themers can design with these elements in mind, and in turn deliver a robust, polished result.


Conversely, some things are really difficult to accomplish with a Drupal site. Though not always impossible, some areas of customization generally do not merit the extra time and money required. When crucial to the site and designed with understanding of Drupal limitations and markup, specific difficult site elements can make a significant impact on user experience, but often need more than CSS.

The goal is to have a design that is created with Drupal in mind. It takes advantage of things that Drupal does well, makes it easier to theme, and implements the desired look with all of the Drupalisms considered. Knowing what to expect from Drupal allows you to make smart choices and maintain your visual intent.


Identify simple elements, that when 'undesigned', make a site look 'Drupally'
Discuss difficult but often impactful elements of Drupal sites that require extra finesse
Offer ideas about when designing with Drupal or against Drupal is appropriate


meghan p.

November 04, 2012


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    BADCamp 2012
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    Hi-fi and Lo-fi Theming Quality Design Implementation Meghan Palagyi Designer, Zivtech
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    Frequency How can some of this happen? ·
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    Frequency Hi-fi and Lo-fi Theming Inexperience Insufficient planning Scope or functionality change without more discovery Budget and deadline crunch Hard stuff left to the end, or gets cut in the interest of time or money · · · · · 4/35
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    Bandwidth Establishing a range Let's establish the space and situation we are working in Having a design or style guide before you start theming will make other issues down the road less volatile. More often than not, the person making design decisions is not the person implementing them As someone who has played both roles, I think having that experience has enabled me to do both jobs better, and work with the other to really make some great things It is difficult to make design decisions and theme simultaneously. Can implement designs, and resist designing while implementing. I've found that in practice it also lets Drupal make decisions for you without you knowing. · · · · · ·
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    Lo-fi Theming There is nothing wrong with a Drupal site being itself! But we can change it Overriding, removing or customizing defaults that work against a site design but are relatively easy to accomplish. ·
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    Theming bandwidth Lo-fi Hi-fi and Lo-fi Theming HTML and CSS proficiency Accept and embrace Drupal as a system Flexibility and improvisation when designs fall short · · · 7/35 Know your medium and be honest about your ability! Customizing Drupal will not be easy if you do not know HTML or CSS. You need to have something under your belt, so let's start there. No need to know the entire spec, but you should be a confidant HTML and CSS author Sometimes designers who do not have web design experience, let alone Drupal experience, intentionally or naively make decisions on their gut. Being or finding a designer who is open to learning about Drupal will make for a more successful site. Harmony at its finest. Having a design or style guide before you start theming will make other issues down the road less volatile. It is difficult to make design decisions and theme simultaneously. It also lets Drupal make decisions for you without you knowing. · · ·
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    All the Drupal Hi-fi and Lo-fi Theming 8/35 When you install Drupal, the base theme includes the Druplicon logo for the logo, a druplicon favicon, and the ‘Powered by Drupal’ block. Adding your logo and a favicon, and hiding the block are really quick ways to remove Drupal branding. You can configure the favicon and logo settings on the admin/appearance/settings/ page for the base theme or a sub-theme, or add the images directly to the site's root folder. Hide the Powered By Drupal block on the admin/structure/block page by moving that block to the disabled section and saving. · · · ·
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    All the Drupal Hi-fi and Lo-fi Theming Druplicon favicon Druplicon logo "Powered by Drupal" block · · · 9/35
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    Dead Giveaways Hi-fi and Lo-fi Theming 10/35 Drupal 7 ships with Bartik, and you can download a number of other contributed themes. Using these themes as is doesn't do much for your content because they were created for generic use, one size fits all. They are generic for a reason, and their reason's are good, but not appropriate for your branding and web identity. Creating a sub-theme of a base theme is the accepted way of customizing your site. Distributions are a great way to save time on a site if it suits your organization's site needs, but what you save in time you lose in flexibility and tailoring because they are pre-made. Distributions do make more specific decisions because they have an intended use-case and audience, but they can be more difficult to customize than a regular Drupal install because of the implementation. · · · · ·
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    Dead Giveaways Using a Core theme or Distribution Hi-fi and Lo-fi Theming Bartik Garland COD Commons · · · · 11/35
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    Dead Giveaways User access Hi-fi and Lo-fi Theming User login Registration New password request · · · 12/35 Drupal is a content management system, and therefore provides a way for the site to have users that can log in. The key to this process is the user and password block and /user page. Many designers who are unfamiliar with CMS’s would not necessarily know or think to create a design or custom treatment for this page. The result is usually the form as is picking up the theme styles that apply. Make decisions about the states, steps, and confirmation emails. · · ·
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    Dead Giveaways Text lengths Hi-fi and Lo-fi Theming Summary text Trimmed text Full node · · · 13/35 A nice feature of Drupal is that is provides summaries and teasers based on full content pieces to be used as a lead-in. This it is a useful tool, but often left as the default length. It can easily be changed or customized to suit the content. Also worth considering: the teasers are accompanied by the content title, author, and a read more link. · · ·
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    Common page elements Hi-fi and Lo-fi Theming 14/35 Common page elements that Drupal has defaults for that get overlooked. ·
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    Common page elements HTML elements Hi-fi and Lo-fi Theming Table styling, including caption Collapsible field sets Row striping Numbering, hyphens, ellipses List style and bullets · · · · · . i t e m - l i s t u l l i { m a r g i n : 0 0 0 . 2 5 e m 1 . 5 e m ; p a d d i n g : 0 ; } F r o m : s y s t e m . t h e m e . c s s C S S 15/35 Stylistic customizations helps the theme look more cohesive. Drupal has styles for many common elements, and when they are not re- styled they can stick out in your theme. ·
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    Common page elements Drupal elements Hi-fi and Lo-fi Theming Pagination Vertical tabs Field labels Tag separators Input styling Feed icon · · · · · · 16/35 Drupal-specific elements that get overlooked, especially regarding changing the indicator images that accompany these where applicable, like arrows, close x's, and the search button image. ·
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    Content standards Hi-fi and Lo-fi Theming 17/35 System details that are easily changed but rarely considered mapped out. Wordage and verbiage details are taken for granted, but making decisions can contribute to user experience. Reflect content's tone: formal, friendly, technical, regional, industry-specific, etc. · · ·
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    Content standards Editorial style Hi-fi and Lo-fi Theming Default field labels Site messages Path patterns (/node, ids, /user) · · · 18/35 Field label text is displayed above the field content by default, but in the content type field display you can change it to be inline or hidden. The actual labels are the names of the fields themselves, so field creation is an opportunity to convey the site’s overall tone. By default Drupal uses its naming conventions for content paths, (/node, /user) You can customize these paths to better fit your information architecture or menu system. At the very least, change /node and /content. Customize the path of your content with pathauto rules. Consider language and styling for the following: Error Message, Status Message, Warning Message, Help Message, access denied you are not authorized to access this page 403, page not found 404 Drupal provides this information to its users, and customizing the look and actual text both allows you another level of control, while removing more Drupal defaults. · · · ·
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    Content standards Blocks Hi-fi and Lo-fi Theming Layout Heading Placement · · · 19/35 Blocks are the outdated, but quick and easy way to place pieces of content in their desired region, but what is gained in ease, simplicity, because these pieces are modular, the seamlessness and integration of content is lost. Too many blocks can leave a site, well, looking blocky as unincorporated one-offs. The use of blocks should be measure and intentional, and care should be taken to apply backgrounds, treat block headers, and be cognizant of the spacing in and around the block. A block should be the most appropriate for the content, not necessarily the look · · ·
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    Images User images, featured images, and image styles Hi-fi and Lo-fi Theming Removing (easy in Drupal 8) or ignoring the default image styles Create your own styles and name them semantically Include in a style guide · · · 20/35 Image styles come with Drupal core, and include some default styles. I would recommend creating your own image styles to use and either ignoring or removing the defaults so that they don’t dictate proportions and cropping. The defaults take some of the semantically useful names, so that can be confusing to content editors. · ·
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    Fine-tuning These changes and customizations are close to or on the surface of Drupal. Default styles can be overridden with CSS and when applied evenly, minimizing the occurrence of missed areas to get burned on. Also customizing and taking the time to configure the text, blocks, images, and paths leaves your site much cleaner without hum and buzz. · ·
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    Hi-fi theming Some of areas of theming are a little bit tougher and require working Drupal’s default styling a markup more in depth. These types of changes often can add extra polish, but also are more costly in terms of time and effort required. · ·
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    Theming bandwidth High range limits Hi-fi and Lo-fi Theming PHP coding ability Preprocess functions, hook alters, custom modules Deeper customization changes can cause... · · · 23/35 Need to be confident enough to cut your own path, deeper changes can be the difference between a success and a disaster Implementing changes that are counterintuitive to Drupal's patterns can be difficult to code, time intensive, expensive or all three If there is an elegant solution, such as a hook alter or preprocess, then you can assume your change will be adequate to achieve the desired result. If hacking is required, changes can cause theme landslides if they are not self-contained or staked out. Bigger tools can do bigger jobs to make more drastic changes, but also do more damage · · · ·
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    Theme landslides! Khait landslide: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khait_landslide
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    Templates Default and custom templates Hi-fi and Lo-fi Theming Core themes come with templates Create a few custom regions or templates to avoid the generic layouts To consider or customize: User profile layout · · · Page layout - page.tpl.php Node layout - node.tpl.php Comment layout - comment.tpl.php · · · · 25/35 Using a theme’s default templates, or the default layouts from panels, while they may seem to do the job, can leave your layout a little lackluster. If the design has common layouts, it be be worth it to create a custom template or two in order to leverage more control of the layout. This includes the header and footer regions, and container wrappers. Good templates to tweak are the page, node, and comment layouts, namely the placement of the title. · · ·
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    Meta data Author, date and publishing details Hi-fi and Lo-fi Theming Author picture image, name and additional information Date formatting granularity Different formatting dependent on the context it appears in · · · 26/35 The node and comment templates are pretty generic. Customizing the author details and formatting, even changing the label text (submitted, posted, by), can be very worthwhile. Also controlling the date formatting by setting up how dates should be displayed allows for more design control. Being conscientious of these elements in different contexts, like in a sidebar, as a list, as a teaser or the full content display. · · ·
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    Information architecture Menu hierarchy Hi-fi and Lo-fi Theming Main menu Secondary menus Navigation menu Author or content editing menu Primary and secondary tabs Breadcrumbs Active trail Hover and active states · · · · · · · · 27/35 Menus are the basis of the Drupal system. With thought and planning, menus can be really fantastic. Spending time on menu states, active trail, and how the main menu works in conjunction with secondary menus, the breadcrumbs and content editing tabs requires more effort than a standard ul menu. Menu tree images - arrows, hyphens and list- styles A tab need not look like one! · · · ·
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    Forms and fields Form layout Hi-fi and Lo-fi Theming Field label and help text styling and placement Dropdowns and select boxes Privacy or legal agreements File upload or attachment widgets Submit buttons · · · · · 28/35 Forms have many nooks and crannies Works out of box, but are often not customized because it is difficult, or will take too long Password fields have extra components like validation and security strength bars Drupal does forms well, but they can be difficult to customize sufficiently if you are not familiar with all of the states that will be used · · · ·
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    Forms and fields Form states Hi-fi and Lo-fi Theming Form progress Required field indicators Input error indicators Multi-step forms · Initial (blank) Partially filled Finished Confirmation · · · · · · · 29/35
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    Forms and fields Search and filter forms Hi-fi and Lo-fi Theming Search field with button or auto-submit Exposed views filters Facet check boxes Ajax loading - ajax throbber · · · · 30/35
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    Equalization Balancing the Hi's and Lo's
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    Equalization Hi-fi and Lo-fi Theming Embrace strengths Compensate for weaknesses Recognize patterns · · · 32/35 Finding the balance of when to let Drupal show and when rework it Drupal does things well. Use this to your advantage. Recognize places where Drupal falls short and compensate or improve them Seeing patterns so that you know when to work with them or against them will systematically allow you to avoid half-theming pieces of the system. · · ·
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    Credits and Resources Hi-fi and Lo-fi Theming Does my site look Drupally https://www.acquia.com/blog/does-my-site-look-drupally Drupalism http://www.nicklewis.org/node/979 Do's and Don'ts http://www.advomatic.com/blogs/amanda-luker/designing-drupal-dos-and-donts Common elements from Chapter 3 http://chapterthree.com/blog/nica_lorber/design_drupal_template_approach Theming firehose http://rarepattern.com/nodes/2011/theming-firehose-nb-designers-front-end-developers-new-drupal Zivtech style guide http://www.zivtech.com/zivtech-style-guide Theming a system http://www.slideshare.net/fourkitchens/dont-design-websites-design-web-systems-badcamp-2011 · · · · · · · 34/35
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    Thanks! I'm dead_arm on Drupal.org and Twitter