Drupal Design tipping point?
by Jay Batson
This weekend, 150+ people assembled at the MIT Stata Center in Cambridge for the first-ever Design4Drupal Camp. This was unique in that a large majority of the attendees were deeply involved in design - not just coding modules. While some of the usual suspects were there, many designers were meeting each other for the first time.
What was most exciting for me is that it felt like the design community within Drupal started to gain a collective voice. In fact, it's possible the voices of designers have reached a tipping point in influence in the Drupal community:
- Though there were still plenty of people there you'd call Drupal Developers, I encountered were more people at this event that described themselves as "Designers" than Developers.
- Though it wasn't a majority, there was a pleasing number of people who told me they were new to Drupal within the last few months - signs of continuing growth.
- Another sign of growth: There were more people here at a design-only event this week than there were at the (full) Drupalcon in Brussels several years ago.
So we had a lot of people in one place worrying about Design. But the big question for me was whether this would have any material effect on Design for Drupal. So on Sunday, instead of talking for an hour, I asked the group to come up with an actionable list of the things designers would like to change about Drupal. In addition to the list I supplied to start with, the group identified (note: these may not be properly stated; I'm the messenger...; also, some of these may be above some designers heads - they're targeted at developers who want to help designers):
- A really, really well done, useful, base theme in core. (But there is debate about what it should contain - all possible CSS, or none?)
- When displaying a base theme (on Drupal.org), indicate the sub-themes derived from the base theme (and vice-versa). (Can people just start to do this in the description of the theme, until it gets automated, please?)
- ID & class adding facility per menu item (currently in queue)
- Put the skinr project - or something like it - into D7 core. There was also some growing affection for the Studio theme pack
- If Drupal emits markup, it should be themable. (This, apparently, isn't always the case now.)
- Drupal.org has a security team, and an ops team. Should there be a design team? What would its authority / charter be?
- A way to mark a contrib issue as having a design problem - not just a "user experience" problem (which is actually a completely different thing in the eyes of designers.) (This involves a change to the Project module.)
- Guidelines for developers on when to do X with design / output to make the lives of designers (who have to deal with a module's output) easier
- Modules should list what markup it is going to emit that needs styled. Preferably list this somewhere _not_ in the module code - e.g. on the module's config page, or ..., so that designers don't need to shift into command line mode to discover this info.
- For every module, should there be a description of relevant design info or assumptions?
- How do we get a critical mass behind making all these changes? Do it on d.o? The systems aren't set up there well, but there is where coders (who may need to make changes) live. Do we create "community" among designers outside of d.o where we can change and modify systems quickly? Does this Balkanize efforts, or accelerate them?
The ideas above are all good. In order for this list to have any real impact, though, the work has to get done. And we noted that some of the work isn't appropriate to do on Drupal.org - e.g. things that aren't GPL can't be done there.
Both to help get some of this done, as well as make a place available that would be an ok place to do some of this work, Acquia has deployed http://design.acquia.com for designers to start to work. Acquia plans on creating a variety of things there during this year. For example, we've already started to collect a list of third-party Drupal theme providers supplying non-GPL themes.
But Acquia shouldn't be the only source of content on this site - or the only one trying to accomplish things on the list above. This is open source - anybody who cares enough about this to complain should also care enough to do something about it. In this spirit, Kathleen Murtagh has started a project to provide an interface for designers to upload .zip files (vs. using CVS to check in a theme.) This needs people to help do work. Who is going to step up?
Let's keep the effort from D4D going, and get stuff done. Please feel free to use design.acquia.com as a resource. I'll be happy to open bits of it up for people to add / extend / and develop into a designer-centric resource.