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Interesting Reader Questions

Published by Chris Coyier

Why a CMS?

I was recently criticized that my sites weren't dynamic, and that no one would hire me because everyone wants a dynamic site. Well, the people I'd be targeting will know nothing about computers, thats why they need me to do the updates. I've become alot more versed in HTML\CSS now, and in design in general. Should I worry about learning something like Joomla? It seems frustrating, because I just can't use my normal web design software that I've become so accustomed to now. People contact me for the updates, I do them, and its done correctly. Is there any other reason to do it another way?

You have a good point... but dynamic sites aren't just to make it easy for clients to update content themselves, but it makes it easier for you to update it too. I've never specifically used Joomla (although I've heard it's nice), but CMS systems like WordPress and Drupal not only make it easy to add new content to a site but offer exteneded functionality that would be a HUGE pain the ass to do manually (e.g. an RSS feed).

Big ol' CMS systems aren't the only way to go though... If you want to design just exactly like you are now, only have the content of the site be editable (by your or a client), you should look into CushyCMS. Too much to explain here, but basically it's a little web application that you can log into and make changes to a web site (you give it the FTP information and tell it what areas it can update by putting class names onto certain elements).


Employers Wants Me to Use Tables

I recently got a job for a company that says they would prefer me to use tables instead of div's in coding out websites. I was wondering what your opinions were on this as well if you have any good strategies for this kind of problem. Luckily I'm sure they wouldn't forbid me from using divs, but their opinion is that tables are more standards compliant which I don't really understand.

That is a pile of crap your employer is shoveling onto you. It's pretty clear they haven't been connected to the web design world for the past half decade or so. Standards compliance has nothing to do with tables or divs, either of them can be just as standards compliant as the other. The difference is that CSS layouts are easier to maintain, more designer friendly, and lighter weight.

Some of the lingering murmurs of dislike over CSS are mis-guided opinions that it's not as cross-browser dependable as tables. Sure, there are a few bugs in some browsers, but nothing that can't be worked around or avoided by a competent web designer.

Don't back down on this battle, you are helping both them and yourself by sticking up for designing with CSS.


  1. Regarding the first question: What are your favourite Content management systems? I am about to work start working on two websites and until now, i have worked a lot with wordpress. I was thinking about using WP again but I am open for suggestions about other CMS…

    The most important thing is that it is easy to use – for me and especially for the client, of course.

  2. With a little PHP and MySql knowledge and the use of something like FCKeditor it is simple to create your own simple CMS that will allow clients to update their own content, while building everything from scratch. I personally don’t enjoy working with large CMS platforms like Drupal and Joomla because I feel like I’m always searching for what I need to edit during the design phase. Of course I’m not extremely experienced in skinning either of them (I’ve only done one of each and several wordpress sites). For me, using the PHP, MySql, and FCKeditor method affords me the opportunity to still build a completely custom site, while still delivering what the client wants.

  3. that graphic guy
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    Great questions and responses… Thanks for posting!

  4. Thank you for pointing to CushyCMS. Some times for small sites my favorite Drupal is too heavy.

  5. chuck
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    I’ve been using MODx for about 2 years now and just can’t look back. It allows you to actually seperate programming and design from the start. The addons that are available or you can easily make (with some PHP knowledge) lets you set placeholders the designer can style or wrap (with h1’s, abbr’s, div’s, etc.) however you like.

    There’s a learning curve but once you get it, man it’s great. You can build a dynamic website with a total custom design in hours compared to days (Joomla). It also is great for progressive enhancement (which is a pain in most CMS’).

    Check it out at

    Love the blog,

  6. Permalink to comment#

    Wow! I’ve been looking for something like this for a while. Perfect for what I need to do.

  7. PXLated
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    I’d highly recommend ExpressionEngine, it’s a designers dream. Work the way you normally do… design/code your page types with static/temp copy, get them clean, verified and approved.
    Move the code into EE templates and your design is preserved. No convoluted knowledge of weird templating systems or php needed. It’s your code the way you want it.

    There is the learning curve associated with setting up any CMS or dynamic system but the design/templating is all yours.

    (not associated with EE, just a satisfied designer)

  8. Permalink to comment#

    I have to check out EE

    been putting this off for way too long.

    any recommended site to get started or books or tuts?

  9. I’m for wordpress, its quick and easy and does what I need it to do.

  10. mystro
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    Anything similar to EE but free?

  11. CMSMadeSimple is a great CMS i’ve worked with. Can get a bit tricky here and there but allowed for full user control on front and interior pages. Can utilize php tags inside the template too.

  12. I can’t say enough about Textpattern, and it’s definitely worth picking up the book (TextPattern Solutions). It does anything I need it to and stays out of my way.

    LucidCMS is also a good lightweight option for small static sites

  13. Chris you say that tables can be standards applicant as divs that that simply isnt true, but for tabular data. A div layout allows the content to be accessible and flexible. Am i missing something here?

    Expression engine is a great CMS, between WP and it you cant go far wrong, if its a budget job then WP is the weapon of choice.

  14. I see the makings of the next poll. Will be really interesting to see the most popular CMS amongst CSS-Tricks readers. I’d really like to try EE someday.

    @Mark: I said standards compliant. Just because tables are awful to use for layout, doesn’t mean it breaks any particular standard.

  15. Tables – That’s crazy. I would have to quit the job if my work insisted that I use them instead of divs.

  16. Kevin
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    Tables: I do a LOT of e-mail marketing and I stick with tables and inline css or (gasp) the font tag. E-mail clients (especially Outlook’s use of the Word’s HTML engine) vary too much and to get consistent look and feel design circa 2002 is unfortunately a must…

    Learning both Drupal and WordPress as they are free – but I’ve considered ExpressionEngine too. Drupal seems to have a steep learning curve but is feature and community rich.

  17. Permalink to comment#

    Definitely WordPress for blog-like websites. For more traditional websites i use CMSMS (CMS Made Simple), one of the more user-friendly Open Source CM Systems out there.

    CushyCMS for the really basic/simple websites.

  18. On using tables for layout, semantically it isn’t correct, bring that argument up as well. Obviously as explained in almost every design website that has been around long enough to see the turn from table based layouts to css based layouts has written about it.

    Don’t break the web, is in my opinion, one of the first things an agency should keep in mind if they want to continue to design websites. If every company started using their own standards instead of those laid out by w3c, the web would become even more a mess it is now, and you allow to be as quirky as they are now.

  19. Maggie Riley

    Regarding using tables for layout, here’s a great presentation from Seybold 2003, showing why tables for layout isn’t a good idea:
    Why Tables for Layout is Stupid: problems defined, solutions offered

    Also, of course, the accessibility issue. Using tables for layout can make your company’s site much less accessible for a large group of people.

    Thanks for the great CMS ideas!!

  20. Q1:

    One thing that bothers me with services (NOT to be confused with web-services) such as CushyCMS is that tomorrow it may be defunct. Or it could be such a year from now. Or the terms of its use or fee structure may change. Then what? Imagine your surprise when you get a call from your frugal Client, who was happy with your work, now that he cannot edit the site.

    While I love the idea of Cushy and want it to succeed, I can’t trust that it will be there in the same way that a Microsoft or other industry-cornerstone site will be there. Sure, M$ could go away, but it’s a whole lot less likely than Cushy packing up.

    The point is this: maximize control and minimize risk via redundancy.

    You maximize control for you and your Client by either creating a simple CMS yourself, or by using a solution that you can install on the Client’s webhost’s server. Even if the canned CMS concern tanks, you can likely still use the application for years to come (until the backbone tech behind it – PHP, MySQL – increments its code version), or swith to another. If your webhost goes south, you can almost always easily find another and in very short order be up and running again.

    That being said- I prefer to make updates myself since that provides more work for me :). I also love the idea of being able to update a site without having to futz about with the intricacies of coding. This last bit is why Clients love CMS systems- it frees them from having to pay or wait for an expensive web designer to make updates. As the Clients request these CMS systems more and more, it becomes important to familiarize yourself with a few of them.


    I agree that the Employer is definitely misguided in its requirements and likely misinformed as well. My guess too is that the Employer needs a good hosing-off.

    When it comes to your Employer – unless the requirements are illegal, a major time-waster in the making, or there is some other practical, overwhelming reason not to do what the Employer asks of you, do it. If you can convince the Employer that by coding in a “semantically correct” manner would be of sufficient benefit, then so much the better. If you are stuck with using tables, then warn the Employer of the disbenefits (rendering time issues, code bloat, accessibility issues, the potential for increased code updating or readability problems etc., among others), but don’t lose sleep over it; browsers will still be able to render the page, the Users will see the webpage just fine, and you will have a job.

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