Are Web Designers Handcuffed by WordPress?

Handcuffed – Good or Bad?

Some artists find form a restraint. Others find it a release.

What is meant by that? Well, take a poet, for example. For some poets, working within the parameters of a rhyme scheme will seem to release a creativity that they could not have found had they been “allowed” to write the poem in any way they liked. For other poets, however, the opposite is true. Trying to follow a certain scheme is akin to being imprisoned.

Comedians, artists in their own way, are the same. Put some comedians under the restraints of certain permissible language, and they shine. The restrictions force them to seek out more creative ways to say things and still achieve the same effect. The result is often even greater than the original intended effect because of the creative new language that had to be invented. But again, this doesn’t work for all comics.

And so the form question is an age old question for all types of artists, and designers today are no exception. Some find the form of a marketing campaign, for example, inspiring. They have certain objectives they must achieve within the design. These clearly laid out goals act as a motivator and a muse. Others would tear their hair out if they had to hit certain marketing goals in that way.

Is WordPress Killing Web Design?

The video below addresses these questions of restraint and release for WordPress designers (and designers who work with any CMS really). This panel is from last year’s SXSW conference.

Here are a few questions considered:

  • Is the out-of-the box structure of WordPress a good thing or a bad thing for web designers?
  • Does WordPress make designers lazy?
  • Do designers rely too heavily on the out-of-the box structure of WordPress?
  • Should WordPress designers start with a blank canvas in mind and then make WordPress adhere to the design that comes from their minds, or should they make their designs adhere to WordPress?
  • And more generally, is traditional print-based graphic design a different world from web design? Can they ever mingle? Should web designers take any lessons from print-based design?

>> Where do you come down on these questions?


Thanks to for the image.

19 Responses

  • I hate the word contrained. Likewise for box.

    I’ve been working with WordPress for six years and have yet to find a project that WordPress isn’t capable of. Maybe I’ve been using WordPress wrong, but maybe, just maybe, I’ve been using it as intended.

    A good work of art should stand alone. A poet can write in pentameter, rhyme, or just free style (no form). It doesn’t make the poem any better or worse. If a poet feels constrained, then maybe the person needs to venture onto something else. There are a ton of other ways to express yourself in literature.

    Likewise, if a developer or designer feels constrained, perhaps he/she should move onto something else. At some point the blame should shift from the software onto the people who are designing and/or developing for the software.

    WordPress to me isn’t a box. It’s a foundation. It’s up to me to choose which house to build on it.

  • “Does WordPress make designers lazy?”

    To the contrary.

    Smarter clients understand a decent site moves quickly from the visual to having enticing content and features (i.e. wp plugins and other enhancements).

    WordPress accommodates that marriage well and allows it to happen fast. Far faster than old school Dreamweaver-type approach.

    And call me easy prey, but you had me at the first post image.

  • New Recruit

    Hm, I think wordpress achieves separation of form and function quite well.

    See, there’s the back-end. The database, and how WP stores stuff in the database. And then there’s the front-end. The ability to theme WordPress. By theming, I do not mean “download one already built and modify it slightly”. By theming I mean to start with a bunch of empty files called style.css and index.php. And then use WP’s built-in functions to output what you want, where you want it.

    WordPress is a tool. How you use it, is up to you.

    • WordPress allows designers to create their own themes and plugins and can therefore not be limiting. Today, a designer needs to learn and evolve with changing technology. 15 years ago, no designer was designing mobile websites. Today, designers require CMS platforms like WordPress to move their designers quickly on the Web.

      Designers who learn how to use WordPress well will always create better and appealing websites. The art of designing has not changed, its the platform for designing that has.

      • New Recruit

        “Designers who learn how to use WordPress well will always create better and appealing websites.”

        This is not necessarily true. The main reason I use WP is the back-end. I don’t have to write a CMS engine to store content, so my clients can learn it really fast, and I can just exclude that part from development time. But the front-end is usually custom made. Sure, designs that we do resemble each other.

        That doesn’t mean that someone using a different CMS engine or one they wrote for themselves, or – what blasphemy – they hard-code content will not make a better or appealing website. Also it depends on the definition of “better” and “appealing”.

        WordPress for me is not limiting at all. If something, it is liberating, because I know, that the back-end has been taken care of. I don’t need to dedicate time and effort to code something that would handle security, ease of use, and can acommodate to nearly any type of data / content I want. Therefore I can focus on the design and implementation. I can bend WordPress to my will, and I’m sure most people who earn their living from it feel the same way.

  • If you have the time and budget, sure why not challenge your designers? The cool thing about WP is that you can press your design team to do something completely brilliant–and you can use it.

  • New Recruit

    Should web designers take any lessons from print-based design?
    No web designers “shouldn’t” take any lessons form print-designers.

    Print-designers should:

    1 – Start calling themselves and be called print-designers or graphic designers and not just designers.

    2 – Learn that good web design shouldn’t make users think, e.g. looking for links.

    3 – Stick to logo and image design (only) not front end design.

    4 – See that PSD to XHTML is fit for 2005.

    5 – Stop using statements such as “looks fine on my computer”.

    I could go on but there’s UX, user centred design, usage centred design, customer journey design, design thinking and so on, all of which are part of web design as is graphic design.

    In conclusion as mentioned in the video, websites that are essentially just posters turned into websites are… let me runaway!

    “It’s ok to decorate construction, it is not OK to construct decoration” someone

  • Interesting article. As a wordpress designer, I would say that the main benefit I’m able to deliver is a professional looking site in a short amount of time at a very reasonable price. Is there a trade off for that? For sure. But a lot of people just don’t have $10,000 to spend on a site.

    A second point I’d make is that “so called” from scratch designs are rarely that. Whether it’s starting with a CMS framework, or just copy and pasting go-to code used on a previous project, most developers rarely develop from total scratch.

    Lastly, if you look at most artists from painting or music, they tend to have a motif or theme which they repeat throughout most of their work. Most of Jackson Pollocks’ paintings have the same basic theme, as does Monet’s or Van Gaugh’s. Most people tend to find a groove and go with it.

    Provocative article. Well done!

    • I disagree with the part about musicians repeating a motif through there work coming from a guitarist and musician myself. There’s inspiration yes, but I have never copied anyone’s work “wordpress template” and modified it to my tune. That’s not music, and not creativity. Designers know what I mean.

  • WordPress gave more jobs to web designers including template and plugin makers! It opened up a series of opportunities that were not easily available 5 years ago!

  • I agree with most of the other comments here. I’ve been a huge Microsoft fan for almost 10 years, working with ASP.NET, MVC and many closed and open source content management systems. I still use these technologies every day, but nothing comes close to the ease-of-use of WordPress.
    Most websites that I would create in ASP.NET MVC that could be done in WordPress fairly easily. Of course, there are always situations where you need to select the right tool for the job – but that’s just part of being a developer.

    In most cases, I think constraints are a good thing. They enforce a particular way of doing something, which makes it a lot easier for other developers to pick up and encourages better coding practices.

    This is the main reason we turn to patterns such as MVC – without constraints, we’d still be in the days of spaghetti-style, waterfall coding.

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