Is Drupal Good for Design? What Do You Think?

Drupal has a reputation for being strong in functionality and having a strong community, but weak when it comes to design. In deciding which cms to use, it is important to make the right decision, especially when considering design features.

The following will cover how strong Drupal is from a design perspective and how to improve design if you are using Drupal.

Drupal Logo

Why are There so Few Drupal Designers?

One of the biggest reasons that Drupal has not attracted designers is because developers have been the main Drupal users. Drupal’s power and flexibility have allowed developers to create custom functionality.

We are usually left brain or right brain dominant. Left brain dominant people tend to be strong in analytical and technical skills. Right brain dominant people tend to be creative and artistic. Left brain inclined developers are often not naturally good at design.

Dedicated Designer

Lets be blunt. For a designer who only has Photoshop, HTML and CSS skills, Drupal theming is not an easy task. This is the barrier that exists for designers. Even though the theming layer has been significantly improved in Drupal 7, Drupal theming requires knowledge of php to control the PHPTemplate engine. Where Drupal has the potential to shine is when you can bring together a strong designer and a strong developer to get the task done.

To shift perceptions of Drupal towards stronger design would require a major paradigm shift. This shift would change Drupal to become perceived as a well designed cms, rather than a code monkey’s playground. This would then open more designer’s eyes to consider designing for the Drupal cms.

Less Competition

One of the design challenges of other open source cms systems, such as WordPress and Joomla, is that there has been an exponential growth of pre-made free themes. There are now many popular online theme market places. In fact, it is coming to a point where some might consider it to be saturated.

On the other hand, the pre-made Drupal templates are few in comparison. This means less competition for Drupal designers and this lack of competition is a significant advantage for designers.

Ready Made Themes

Even though the marketplace for Drupal themes is small, if you are looking for a ready made theme, the availability of prebuilt Drupal themes is increasing. With the release of Drupal 7, many more beautiful looking themes have become available.

This is fantastic for content websites and a vast array of options are being offered. Although on the flipside, currently only few Drupal themes for Ecommerce are available. It will be some time before more ecommerce themes are produced.

Drupal Code

How to improve Design with Drupal

To allow a seamless transition from design to development, it is important for those who are designing mockups for Drupal to have some familiarity with Drupal.

Drupal designers should use standard graphical elements without changing the size, design forms as standard Drupal forms, style consistently and using a grid is often helpful to maintain a consistent layout. It is also worthwhile to consider creating a template with all the important graphical elements, without needing to design them from scratch for each design.

Drupal is Great for Design

Bringing these ideas together, Drupal design becomes a very attractive endeavor when you utilize a dedicated graphic designer and when you consider the lack of competition. Designing for Drupal does require some familiarity with Drupal and although not in depth knowledge. The key point here is that we need a change in the way Drupal is perceived.

The more beautifully Drupal designed websites are out there, the more it will be perceived as an ideal cms to design for. This shift is starting to happen now with Drupal 7 putting more emphasis on design and usability. It is likely that we will collectively see Drupal as a great cms for design in the near future.

So, Is Drupal Good for Design? What do you think?


  • it’s true that there aren’t as much Drupal themes compared to WordPress or Joomla but that doesn’t necessarily mean less competition; for an average user, there’s hardly any difference between using Drupal vs. WordPress for their website so why not just choose WordPress which is easier to customize and has more themes to choose from?

    personally, I chose to learn WordPress instead of Drupal was because Drupal’s documentation is very cluttered and hard to navigate & learn compared to WordPress

  • oliverseddon

    I’ve had a few run-in’s with drupal sites, and as a designer/developer find it really counter intuitive not only for the people building it but far worse when you try and pass it over to a client. Who want’s to spend two days explaining how to use a CMS?

    It’s not alone in it’s complexity when it comes to the CMS though, but it does seem worse than most when it comes to beginners, designers, developers and editors alike.

    My suggestion would be to use CMS Made Simple, which I have been using for the past five years and has seen move from strength to strength. And the reaction I always get from clients “Oh, that’s really easy” says it all.

  • I think that one of the biggest stumbling blocks with Drupal is that its driven by functionality rather than usability. I think this is reflected through both the interface of the admin section and the process for development of themes. You can tell that not enough thought has been put into the design and usability of the actual product. Once resolved I think there will be a much higher take up with designers.

  • Giovanni Canzio

    Drupal is ABSOLUTELY good for design.
    Well yes, it requires PHP skills and knowledge of Drupal templating criteria, but…who works only on HTML/CSS today?

    I see that the separation between functional and presentation layer was improved, and it lets me work better. And well yes, there’s less competition :)

  • It’s easy to design for Drupal once you understand the flow. The hard part is to teach the designers how everything works. I don’t think it is a designer work to do that. 
    The designer should only make the design and a programmer should make the transition from static HTML to Drupal code. My opinion is the same for WordPress.

    I think it’s easier to design for Drupal than design for WordPress, i’ts just more intuitive…

  • Great post, Michael. I agree – designers tend to steer clear of Drupal as they flock more to the WordPress’, ExpressionEngines, etc. of the CMS world. Drupal is however very popular in larger firms as they have much more development support to build out and theme Drupal appropriately. Some of the world’s nicest websites are in fact using the Drupal CMS. 

  • Atiyah Tatiana Thomas

    Drupal is a power CMS, but I find myself not liking the methods that the CMS use to implement design. I find myself spending a lot of time just implementing design. I think if the drupal developers made the wording a little easier for people to understand it would be more friendly. I read a post below and I agree that it does get easier once you understand the flow of how drupal connects everything.

  • jheideman_mpr

    No. There are so many bad decisions baked into drupal core it’s not even funny. The whole thing feels like it was written by people who haven’t ever taken a computer science class, and php was their first language ever. 

    The fact that the CMS tries to force HTML structure on you is problematic for any competent front-end designer/developer. Modern websites are built more than just using HTML. Ever try do something with JSON or XML in drupal, or want to build a clean progressively enhanced site? Good luck. 

  • Colin Pritchard

    Personally I prefer Concrete5 for my CMS. Easier to use for my clients. Powerful and easy to add on to. 

  • Personally, I loathe Drupal in most ways but I have had some experience designing for it. It’s straightforward once you get a hang of how everything’s pieced together. Despite my dislike for it, Drupal does have some pretty neat features and handles multi-language sites a little better IMO than say WordPress of ExpressionEngine.

  • Herpes

    good article! thx!
    it would be much easer for non-programmer if smarty would be the default template engine instaed of this crumbling phptemplate!

  • Dan

    Well the answer to that is pretty easy: no.

  • Skilpatrick

    Good simple overview on Drupal – something I have wondered about since I chose WordPress.

  • Drupal is supported by an expert community of programmers. This is the
    most important point that makes Drupal very concomitant on the Content
    Management System’s market.

  • Leonard

    I was a designer, but now currently do more development work. Drupal theming is not trivial… In many ways, it’s actually harder than writing a custom site (if we take a simple, humble blog as an example)! But the flexibility Drupal offers to both designers and developers for creating new entities (content types) make’s it well worth the effort. 
    I wouldn’t compare Drupal to WordPress…
    I’d be more inclined to compare Drupal to Cake.PHP, or Yii…And Drupal is far easier to learn than either of those.It negates the need to understand both Object Relationship Mapping and the Model View Control pattern, yet offers the same advantages presented by both of those computer science tenets (justin heideman brought the subject up), yet also happens to be easy enough for an editorial/content team to understand with very little training.

    It’s a very good piece of software…

  • Drupal theming has come a long way in the last two major versions. Drupal 7 design via JUST theme customization has become easier for non-programmers, but more importantly, modules such as Views, Panels, and CTools provide aleternative ways to assign styles to content, and to place content just about anywhere you like. Combine these improvements with some mature theme frameworks (such as AdaptiveTheme or Fusion) and you can avoid PHP entirely, work with well laid out style sheets full of helpful comments.

    I understand that the learning curve and experimentation time needed to fully understand Views, Panels, CCK, etc can seem too steep, but by investing the time, you’ll design sites tailored to your content, instead of forcing the content to conform to a single grid or preset template file.

  • Yes I Think Drupal is great for design but I must admit that I hade the HTML code. I use a lot Of time cleaning up the code i Drupal 7 and Views 3

  • Adadaasdadas

    What a bunch of horseshit.

  • BitcoinKing

    Drupal is little harder to theme because you need support modules : Views, Quicktabs, fieldroup. But result might be more consistent, for client it’s a big deal.

  • Chris Raymond

    If the Drupal developer does not wish for the designer to UNDERSTAND those things and locks the designer out, it is an exercise in futility. All the backend flexibility, great. But even the best designer can’t begin to implement clean html5 markup and css3 effects when told “you’ll work with the markup Drupal gives you”

  • We found that many Drupal developers and end users struggled with the design side. It can be done, its just not easy. So we built Cohesion as a productivity tool that makes designing great Drupal sites much easier. Does a lot more besides.