theming

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On October 24 and 25 I'm going to be in Seattle for the Pacific Northwest Drupal Summit. From my understanding, this un-conference is aimed specifically at intermediate and advanced Drupal users, so most of the topics are hitting the folks a little higher up the Drupal learning curve. There will be a whopping 4 rooms of sessions, which means that we'll have a lot of choices, and there will be a lot of people hanging out in the halls looking at the schedule, trying to figure out where to go. Perfect for me, because I love hanging out in the halls.

The Summit's web site was donated by This By Them, the same folks that did the uber-nice DrupalCamp LA site. You can see some similarities. I'm happy to see this re-purposing of a DrupalCamp web site (A full distribution and case study for the site can be found here). First of all, it saves the organizers time, and secondly it gives us attendees a familiar framework when registering, planning and voting on sessions. When we finally get a DrupalCamp Idaho off the ground, using this distribution will be a slam dunk.

There's some good topics being covered, such as deployment, Drupal 7 theming, Open Layers and SEO. I've also submitted a few sessions on AJAX development, Drupal security, themeing, and making friends. I've also been asked to do a BOF (Birds of a Feather) on the Navigate module. You can check out what sessions I've voted for by going to my profile page and clicking "My picked sessions."

I've you're planning on attending and want to say hi, drop me a line. Look forward to seeing you there!



At DrupalCamp Colorado, Stephanie Pakrul and Jay Wolf spoke about the new module Skinr and how it relates to Panels for theming, and I left the session with a few pleasant goosebumps. For the uninitiated - as I was - Skinr is a module sponsored by Gravitek Labs which allows themes to expose style presets to blocks. The upshot is that once you create a nice style, you can allow users to apply the styles to virtually any area of a page with a couple clicks. This effectively incorporates several principles that have up until this point been applicable mostly to modules, like reuse of code, config-based changes and ... well ... general modularity. I could immediately see that this was an idea with really big potential. Even in its infancy, the Skinr module can do some pretty neat stuff.

Along these lines, Top Notch Themes did a pre-release of their new Fusion theme which incorporates Skinr functionality. The folks at TNT have really been quite genius with their positioning of the Fusion theme, and I think they have really wrapped their minds around where theming is headed over the next couple of years. Their base message is that Fusion is the only theme you'll ever need - a tall order for any one theme, and an interesting proposition. The theme is grid-based and comes in fluid or fixed 960 variety, and a plethora of styles are made available through Skinr for layout and look and feel.

The main purpose of the Fusion base theme, however, is not to provide a look and feel, but rather to supply a solid foundation for sub-themes and - get this - pluggable, extensible style packs (my term). So, instead of having to cut and paste stylesheets and images from one theme to another, instead you paste these style packs in. I really like this idea. Fusion will ship - I believe - with an example sub-theme that looks pretty decent out of the box. Fusion also exposes some nice configuration options you don't see in a lot of themes, like font settings and setting the default text in several areas of the site.

Fusion will be released into Drupal contrib, and then TNT will be selling sub-themes on their site. The fact that they will be moving their themes to Fusion says something really important about Skinr and Fusion. If a leading Drupal company that needs the support of the community to survive is throwing their weight behind these technologies, it's a good indication that it's something to watch very carefully.

I think the move to create a one-size-fits-all, highly modular theme is inevitable, and comes at an excellent time considering how important it is to the Drupal community to attract more designers and themers. I also think it's a daunting task that can be accelerated if there is a model to drive the development commercially, alongside community development, so I appreciate TNT's and Gravitek's roles in this venture. The ability to create 'style packs' (again, my term), is another way that themers can contribute, and Fusion / Skinr will allow designers to do an awful lot of design without worrying about theming. That's pretty powerful stuff.

I'm really looking forward to seeing how this moves forward. TNT and Gravitek have their work cut out for them, but I hope that quickly it will become a minor movement to change the way we look at theming from here on out.



I made a decision a while back to starting working through the established cannon of usability / user interface design books. The first book I picked up was Designing Visual Interfaces by Kevin Mullet and Darrell Sano. In the book, they break down the different aspects and components of design and offer examples both in software interface design as well as other disciplines like poster and map design. Many of the poster examples were (forgive me if I use the name to broadly) fairly modernist. Probably the most remarkable feature of these pieces was the use of restraint and subtle proportioning.

Restraint is an aspect of design (and life) I've wanted to improve the execution of for quite some time. The irony with restraint, however, is that it can be distracting in excess. Remove too much of the cruft people are used to and they start to miss it. The trick - I assume - will always be in the blending the correct pinch of attractive cruft on a highly focused interface.

The theme of this site is a demonstration of restraint. I attempted to imply divisions and containment rather than make them explicit with lines and boxes. I also attempted to remove any elements that didn't serve the primary purpose of the site, which is helping visitors figure out who the heck this bozo Chris Shattuck is. I think it's reasonably attractive, but I know from experience that I think so only because of overexposure. Bad design is like coffee - it's crap at first, but force it down long enough and you actually start to like the stuff.

So, is this design a decent example of restraint, or has it totally missed the mark?



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