Since Drupal 8 was released, many people have had the misconception that it is only usable by engineers and developers. The truth is that Drupal 8 is a powerful tool for agile marketing efforts and content management that doesn’t require any prior tech knowledge to learn. To prove that anyone can use Drupal 8, Design 4 Drupal Boston recently held a crash course to train content editors, marketers and project managers on how Drupal operates and how to work alongside developers to design better user experiences on Drupal sites.
As Acquia’s new content marketing manager, and someone who once accidentally translated an entire company’s homepage to Turkish for an agonizing 20 minutes, I was a perfect fit for this basic introduction to Drupal. My session was taught by Chris O’ Donnell, a digital strategist with more than two decades of experience in website development and a regular speaker and volunteer at DrupalCons and DrupalCamps. I signed up hoping to leave with the ability to create, adjust and publish new content without constantly bugging our very patient web ops manager or feeling like I was playing a dangerous game of digital Jenga. In just a few hours, not only did I gain the skills to edit website layouts and launch new content types with no coding required, I also had a greater appreciation for the entire Drupal ecosystem.
If you’re a digital marketer or content creator new to Drupal or worried about an upcoming Drupal 8 migration of your current website, never fear! Here are some of the biggest lessons for beginners using Drupal 8.
Speaking a New Language
A surprising part of the session was hearing the diverse backgrounds of the attendees. Along with content marketers, there were project managers and website designers from universities, government organizations and ad agencies. And despite this being a “beginner” session, a few seasoned web developers had also registered to learn how to better communicate with their own marketing teams and onboard them to Drupal.
The developers wanted to understand how to “code-switch” to marketer-speak, in much the same way that creators aim to translate technical developer ideas into content for general audiences. Events like Design 4 Drupal aren’t just valuable for the practical exercises in how to use the software; they teach us more effective techniques for explaining concepts and conveying complex ideas in meaningful ways. Seeing people attend the class so they could better support their coworkers and team members was a testament to the generous spirit of the Drupal community.
To make sure you never again have to ask how to move the “text box thing,” let’s start with a basic Drupal glossary:
Nodes: The most important piece for creators and site designers, nodes are any type of content or page on your Drupal site.
Modules: A Drupal module is a collection of files that when installed on your site will add features and functionality. There are thousands of modules available by searching the Build section of Drupal.org, but a few that I’d recommend for content marketers are the SEO Checklist for content strategy, Paragraphs to combine several different fields into a custom drag-and-drop element and Google Analytics integration to track content performance.
Taxonomy: Drupal's taxonomy system is used for categorizing content. Each piece of content can be categorized or tagged with a specific label, and administrators can set a unique vocabulary type for each category. For example, you can create a category for "Blog Series" with vocabulary terms as each series's title.
Themes: A theme defines the visual layout of your site. You can download pre-existing, contributed Drupal 8 themes with a majority of the framework already good-to-go. These files make it even easier for you to add in the content you want to different regions of your site without having to do any complex rearranging.
Mastering Form and Function
Once you’ve got the definitions down and understand the role each part plays in shaping user experience, it’s simple to find the right option in your admin menu and start creating content. This was the point where I was thrilled to learn that, unlike Drupal 7, Drupal 8 comes equipped with an inline editor that lets creators edit and write new content directly on the page without having to open a separate editing tab or make adjustments to any code in the back end. Never again will you need to dig through archives or outdated documentation folders to find the location of a specific press release or old landing page. In the long term, knowing how content is housed and labeled throughout your site means you can more quickly file a support ticket or explain an issue to your IT help desk in the case that something does go wrong on your site.
A Code of Honor
Beyond the terms and tactics, one of the greatest takeaways I got from the session was an understanding of the values of the Drupal community and how their mission to make an impact and be better together motivates every project. The set of Values & Principles at Drupal.org serves as part manifesto and part “code of honor” for Drupalists. The mission statement encompasses a technical and cultural commitment to achieving technical excellence, enjoying the work they do and treating each other with kindness. While some marketers might believe that the web development world is a purely technical string of 1s and 0s, Drupal upholds a humanitarian spirit beneath the keystrokes. Users take pride in committing their efforts to designing exceptional experiences for today’s top non-profit and educational sites, such as the Youth Hostel Organization and Open Y: an open source initiative to bring digital transformation and unity to the YMCA.
The open source model also accomplishes what very few systems have: harmony between major enterprises and individuals working together toward the same goal. Most people who contribute to Drupal code do so hoping to improve what that code can do. Therefore, the collective understanding of the software is always being expanded upon and refined by individuals, teams and organizations all over the globe.
The result? Users get the best of both worlds: enterprise-quality resources and unique, independent perspectives.
Everyone Wins with Open Source
According to O’Donnell, the best definition of the freedom offered by open source software was told to him by a group of 8-year-olds who had started their own programming group. Open source is:
- Free to use
- Free to keep
- Free to change
- Free to share
(Trust me: hearing that elementary schoolers were Linux experts certainly boosted my confidence that I could master the Drupal basics.)
The focus on collaboration in open source was a refreshing change from the siloed mindset that I think that marketers, myself included, can often be guilty of. Marketers spend so much of their days attributing leads, tracking referral codes and determining what revenue came from which campaign that they can easily get that “me-first” tunnel vision.
Open source and the Drupal community consistently put the needs of the many above the needs of the few and care more about the end result and the customer experience than claiming credit for a specific change or improvement.
By the time my course was over, I could launch a basic Drupal 8 site, create new content types and customize the layout of different webpages. More importantly, I had conquered any anxieties about diving into Drupal as a self-declared “non-technical person.” Anyone can build their own Drupal site, but the first step to accomplishing this is for us to stop underestimating our abilities and confining ourselves into boxes based on career types, hobbies or preconceived notions of what a creative designer or writer can do versus an engineer.