Tinker with your publishing platform

The first rule of content management systems is that you’re using the wrong one.

This line from a recent ALA article cracked me up since I’d taken on yet another CMS change as part of reviving my blog.

In the past few weeks, I’ve made tweaks to the WordPress theme and played with plugins as I worked out what my posts should look like and how I wanted to publish them[1. For example, the Twenty Fifteen theme has a great cover photo layout but I never have a relevant, good-looking image. On a whim, I scooped up an old favorite from my Flickr account and added a footnote at the end of the post. After repeating this pattern for a dozen posts, I decided it’s one worth keeping, and set up a Custom Field plugin and a child theme to accomplish two things: break out the footnote in the Edit page as its own field to create a separation from the Body (screenshot), and to centralize the styling].

It’s like tinkering with a vintage car in the garage, one that you take for a ride once in a while. I’ve come to accept that it’s a really valuable activity for a UX designer. 

Let me explain.

When I first created my personal website about a decade ago (eek!), I spent a lot of time fiddling with WordPress themes and plugins. On one hand, it was gleeful to spend weekends knee deep in PHP files and support forums. On the other hand, publishing was sporadic, and a sense of disappointment accompanied any thoughts of my site.

In hindsight, these were valuable, self-taught lessons in information architecture, content governance, publication workflows, community support, product feature priority etc. Topics which I wouldn’t be able to name for years.

Future projects with Drupal, Squarespace, Tumblr, XOOPS, Expression Engine and even a full scratch CMS system would bring opportunities to build different perspectives. And now, many of the services we design for center around the interaction of the user capturing something and expressing that via media, which then gets presented for someone else to interact with.

It’s only now, while tinkering with WordPress again like in the good old days, that I can see how formative it was to sweet talk and strong arm a CMS to work with your own content. And I feel thankful for those weekends… even if I didn’t become a star blogger!