With a few projects under my belt, the time arrived to build a portfolio. After all, it was six parts utility and four parts creative interest that drove me to enroll in this bootcamp (the content of which has been pressing against the inside of my skull, threatening to implode my braincase) so I figured I'd better start putting myself out there. Plus, I am stoked on the notion that I could be creative all day and get paid for it. But I gotta' get the khakis to get the job. You know what I mean? So...
Chop, chop buttercup. Get building.
But where does one begin? First, with a clarification: Not all designers write code. Some do, and they are quite valuable. There is a bit of chitchat about unicorns out there, but that is a Voldemortian delicacy for another day.I don't code, but I need a website. I know many principles that make websites effective and delightful, but I need the code to make it happen.
Enter, the CMS.
You've heard this acronym before. Content management system. Think Wordpress, Squarespace, Wix, Weebly, and the list goes on and on. How does one decide? I used good ol' fashioned trial and error. Guaranteed to get a result, just not in the shortest amount of time.Over a week, I played around in Wordpress, Wix, and Squarespace, trying to decipher which best suited me. I also played with WebFlow - a strange landscape between CMS and something else I can't quite give words to.I use Wordpress to publish this blog and before I ventured into Wix and Squarespace territory, I had my quibbles with it.
What I would discover after seven long days and nights between three CMS's was that these quibbles with Wordpress were rooted in a singular quibble with myself.
The visions I have in my head are too specific. I am not compromising to meet the limitations of Wordpress and I am not proficient enough in HTML and CSS to build my site from scratch. In other words: learn how to code or find another means of executing your vision, Tom.But what about all of these other tools? Maybe they can get me where I want to go without having to learn Hypertext Markup Language and Cascading Style Sheets!?Only one way to know, so I started off by rebuilding RobotSodaDesign as a free Wix site.I was trying to change/modify the following characteristics of my site and having trouble doing so. I gave a shot at executing the changes in Wix.
- I've been playing with card-style UI elements in my bootcamp and I wanted to reproduce something like that for my blog posts.
- Ever since I added Gus' image as a header, that cute robot appears on every individual blog post page (not my intention). Without editing the theme's code, it wasn't clear to me that there was a way to fix it.
- I enjoy Debbie Millman and her podcast, Design Matters. DesignMattersMedia.com is a killer website with a radical background - a constantly evolving gradient. I wanted to execute something like this for RobotSoda.
Anyhow, here is a full page screenshot of the Wix version of my blog.
As far as my goals went, I think I accomplished two out of three.
- Wix has great container shape options, and these white shapes with two rounded corners resemble the card-style I was looking for.
- The background is a gradient! But it is not animated...
- Each blog post page no longer features Gus' exceptional portrait. Booyah!
But with every accomplishment comes a challenge.
- I built every element on the page from scratch. I did not use the Wix blog engine because it didn't accommodate the shapes I wanted at the outset. This means I'd have to manually recreate the card and size it according to the text snippet for every new post. Then I'd have to select all the posts, shift them down the page, and insert the new one.
Supremely efficient ;)
- I achieved the background gradient by finding the CSS on Codepen and inserting it into HTML/CSS code block, then stretched that block the full dimensions of the page and, as a layer, set it behind all of my other elements. As you might have noticed, it doesn't reach the bottom of the page. This would have to be manually adjusted with the rest of the blog posts for every new entry.
Re: recurring bummer.
Despite these hangups, the Wix dashboard is more intuitive to me than Wordpress'. Probably because it reflects design tools I commonly use, namely Illustrator and Sketch. To think that all of the elements I am dragging and dropping are traditionally written out as code is a trip. So I give them props for that.
But the lack of a customizable blog engine really put me back in the same place I was in Wordpress: a specific vision without the coding knowledge to execute it.
I do not recall what led me to Squarespace. I had toyed around with it a year or so ago as I was kicking around the idea that would become the decision to enroll in a design bootcamp.
It wasn't until I started building my portfolio that I became aware of the nightmare I had paid a year's advanced subscription for.
That's a little harsh. There are things about Squarespace that make it a valuable tool. The dashboard is more akin to Wordpress than it is to Wix, for better or worse. It's less like a design tool and more attached to HTML and CSS structures. Check it out below, or use this link.
Very minimalist. "Very Swiss," a keen peer pointed out. One of the biggest challenges I have with Squarespace is creating diversity in text blocks. There isn't a way to change just the background of a single text box, or any div for that matter, without writing CSS.For this reason, I've felt constrained to vertical thinking. It is challenging for me to add horizontal character without being able to edit individual divs. On my About page, below, I'd like to create a hierarchy with something other than the typography, e.g. giving headers or body text a different background color or watermarking an image beneath the text (although I do like the idea of using typography alone to accomplish that task). But it is challenging to do so in Squarespace. You can add an image and select an option to put text on top of it, but once you are there, you don't have as much control over the text styling as you would if it were an H1 or H2, etc.
There is a premium fee to pay before being able to access more of the CSS in Squarespace. I'd harp on that if it weren't the same for Wordpress and if I'd be able to use it efficiently if I had the access, but I can't say that I would do more than flail at this current moment.
One ought to have goals, right?
I've received complements on the minimalist approach to my portfolio, but I think that has more to do with Squarespace's intended aesthetic than my own. When I compare the Wix version of RobotSoda and my portfolio page, I see two very different designers. I'd like them to merge a bit more, but my head is already so full I don't think even with the time to do so I'd have any room for the knowledge necessary to accomplish the task. For now, I embrace my Swiss-minimalism :)In conclusion:
- Wordpress is the granddaddy. Enough said. It's dashboard sucks, but the elderly have been known to have bad breath.
- Wix is hip and contemporary and FUN. It's layout makes it easy for anyone who's worked in design software to pick it up. It is colorful!
- Squarespace is sleek and chic and modern. It's themes are smooth and many of them feature parallax scrolling effects. It has a thing for the whitespace.
If I had to do it again, I'd think about the vibe of each CMS, then the feel I am trying to achieve with my site, and make a decision from there.Until I can code my site from scratch, the tastemakers and theme-creators of each CMS will inevitably influence my creative vision. I guess the best advice is to pick whichever CMS you can imagine making a compromise with, without losing too much hair. Or sleep. Or whatever else the interwebs are stealing from us these days...