Beginner with a few questions on CMS!

I’m a little embarrassed to call myself a beginner because I just graduated with a 4-year degree in web design and development. The problem with college, especially in this field, is that there is no way they can teach you everything you need to know and let you start taking on clients to build professional web sites. I am working on my portfolio now, and feel terribly lost because I’m quickly realizing there is a LOT more to it than what we learned in school. Alas, I am not here to preach about curriculum, I am here in search of much needed advice from professionals in the field.

My passion is designing a site in Photoshop, creating wireframes, laying out the site in DIV’s, adding content, using PHP includes, etc. How can I add e-commerce and CMS to my existing process? When using Wordpress, Joomla, etc. I am finding that you have to use templates, not your own designs, but a heavily tweaked version of theirs. The same when you add e-commerce capabilities such as Magento, ZenCart, OScommerce, etc. I would absolutely love the features included in some of these programs, but do I have to sacrifice my own design process in order to achieve this?

Basically I am just curious if someone could explain to me what their process is. If you are a true designer and get a client who wants an e-commerce site, what do you do? What are the CMS that you use for clients regularly? Or do they change with each situation? Any advice or links to tutorials or other sources are greatly appreciated and I look forward to your responses!

Hi Katie. Welcome to the forums. :slight_smile:

I am finding that you have to use templates, not your own designs, but a heavily tweaked version of theirs.

That’s not always the case. It depends on the CMS. There are some CMSes that basically let you create your own HTML/CSS templates as you always have, unimpeded. Take ExpressionEngine, for example. The templates are entirely your own. And there are nice cart add-ons that integrate seamlessly with the site, so that again, your template structures are not interfered with at all.

Welcome to the forums!

Indeed the web moves so fast it’s well nigh impossible for schools to keep up to date!

Answering some of your questions…

How can I add e-commerce and CMS to my existing process?
If you are a true designer and get a client who wants an e-commerce site, what do you do?
For the most part you’d probably reach for a pre-built shopping cart system and build the site around that. There are literally 100’s of ecommerce systems around to cater for all needs, product types, and budgets, it’s really a case of finding what’s needed by your client then finding a solution to match.

I am finding that you have to use templates, not your own designs, but a heavily tweaked version of theirs.
…but do I have to sacrifice my own design process in order to achieve this?

Not at all. Yes some CMS’s have a ton of pre-made “themes” that you can simply add and away you go, but that rather defeats the point of being a web designer/developer!

As ralph.m mentioned many CMS’s don’t generally have pre-made themes, the likes of ExpressionEngine, Perch, Statamic, Craft give you the freedom to create your own - literally starting from a blank slate. It’s worth remembering that many pre-made themes can be very bloated with features/code you don’t need, building your own can help to ensure your site is lean and efficient.

What are the CMS that you use for clients regularly? Or do they change with each situation?
Apart from a few projects I specialise in ExpressionEngine so that’s generally all I use.

My thoughts exactly! I was thinking that I should have saved my money and learned how to build Wordpress templates on YouTube, if that is how things are being done by professionals. Meaning doing the design in Photoshop then just coding it for a Wordpress theme instead of for an HTML website. Upon further research, I’ve discovered that tailoring it to a Wordpress theme isn’t really that much different than coding it for a regular website, I’ll just have to learn how to do it.

Unfortunately I’m finding this out as well, that it takes a lot of work to sift through all the extra mess, it doesn’t seem worth it! That is 2 votes for ExpressionEngine so I will absolutely take a look into that program. I thank both of you for your help and welcome any other comments or suggestions!

Glad we could both offer some insight!

For creating themes from scratch in Wordpress then is the place to start if you hadn’t found that already :slight_smile:

ExpressionEngine has a free “Core” version you can play with which if good for building real non-commercial sites with as well, it’s missing a few modules that are found in the full version but certainly nothing to stop you building complex content driven sites. The full/commercial version has a licence fee which some people scoff at, but when you get to know it the fee is often a drop in the water compared to the amount of (expensive) custom dev work you have to do with other systems to do the same thing.

Perch is great for smaller sites where owners need to update text snippets, images etc, and easy to add to any existing static HTML site. For templates you simply add a few special tags to your HTML and Perch does the rest.

Statamic is (currently) a post/page type system, similar to Wordpress, except it stores data as flat files and not in a database, consequently page loads times are accordingly fast because there’s no database lookups! Templating, again you start from a blank sheet and build things up using template tags for where you want content snippets to appear.

Craft, like EE, has a free core version that you can use, and offers commercial addons for more advanced features. Like EE you use custom fields to build up content containers, then add tags to your templates to output the content, again with templates you start from a blank sheet and build for the content/design and not what a system imposes on you.

I’m a little late to the party but this is exactly my thoughts on the subject too.

Any CMS worth using will have a theming engine which will allow you to forget about premade templates and let you build your own. I use Drupal and although for the first site I built, I used a parent theme called Zen to sort of act as the canvas for my site, I quickly learned how to integrate comps from PSD to the CMS and build a theme from scratch without depending upon anybody else’s scaffolding (Disclaimer: I’m a coder so I don’t come up with the designs but I build sites, write code and apply designs via the theming layer).

When I was in college I took business + marketing which was relatively static but I continuously scanned through the course catalogue in hopes that there was something in tech that I could take that was current. Unfortunately they were about a decade behind. It doesn’t hurt to have a degree or certificate and you’ll have a good foundation to get up to speed.

Excellent! Thanks for that! I am also looking at these other programs, I haven’t heard of some of them. I was just looking into Wordpress because it seems that a lot of people are using it now as a CMS, but sometimes the lesser-known ones are better.

Glad I’m not alone in feeling this way! I have also heard a lot about Drupal but I have no experience with it. I think I will just get a few basic websites together and use a few different CMS to get a feel for them. Practice makes perfect, I suppose! Much of design/development is just doing it until you’re blue in the face to get the hang of it! Haha. Thanks again for all the help! :slight_smile:

I have a multi-site CMS that I created myself. As my projects get more complex, I’ve been advised to switch to a community CMS, so I decided to check out Drupal and WordPress, which appear to be the most popular. In fact, I was going to start by creating aliases of my local sites in Drupal, but I quickly hit a brick wall - several brick walls, in fact.

First, I couldn’t install Drupal on my Mac; it wouldn’t connect with my database. Then I discovered Acquia Dev Desktop, which is apparently designed as a crutch to help people install Drupal (somewhat similar to MAMP). Using Acquia, I was able to install Drupal, but there’s a little catch - I can’t find the Control Panel!

I asked for help in the chat box on Acquia’s website but was told “This is the sales section.” So I found the appropriate forum, only to discover I’m not allowed to post there, even though I’m registered on the site. So I asked about it on another forum at but haven’t received any replies yet.

If you have to jump through that many hoops just to get Drupal installed, then I have to wonder how people deal with the really complex stuff.

So I’m going to send Drupal to the trash bin and try WordPress next. In fact, I installed it online very easily. But I need to install a multi-site version on my laptop. I want to check out ExpressionEngine, too.

The pros and cons between using a popular CMS and “rolling your own” are enormous. A CMS that represents the collaboration of thousands of people obviously has lots to offer, but the price tag for adapting to it can be very steep.

However, I think it would be kind of cool to have a CMS set up on your local machine. That way you can do cool things with your sites in the CMS, then try and figure out how to integrate those features into your default sites.

Indeed, “rolling your own” can involve 1000’s of development hours for something comprehensive. The “price” tag for a ready made system is really peanuts when you consider how much development time it saves. You can spend $500 on a decent set up and be up and running in no time, or spend $000’s in work hours trying to bend something to fit, as far as the clients budget and your sanity go then it’s a no-brainer!

You should be able to install Drupal with MAMP, have you seen or ?


Although when I started with Drupal, there was little documentation, I had no problem setting up a local site. Today there are literally hundreds of videos showing how to set up Drupal on Mac, Windows, Linux, etc…

Ok, to get a feel for what it’s like to install Drupal correctly you can use Simply Test Me ( to install Drupal and check it out for a very short time period. It’s all online and it will install Drupal and you can watch it install correctly so you know what the installation process is like when it works right. After that you can play with the configurations, install modules and have some play time but it will disappear after some predetermined time period.

For learning how to install Drupal on Mac, Google is your friend. That said, make sure that you look at more recent info because every iteration of OSX seems to change my settings, where things are and what software is active… I’m looking at you Lion, Mountain Lion, Mavericks and anything that has to do with Apache, PHP, MySQL and Java.

This one is reasonably recent:

And here’s a list of others:

Whenever this question comes up and you don’t have a proper development server to work with, I recommend putting something like MAMP ( for Apple and WAMP ( for Windows and then working forward from there. If you’re going to get into developing lots of sites on your machine, I’d recommend virtualizing your LAMP stack and using something like Virtual Box and Drupal Pro ( or Bitnami (

Ok, that should get you going as painlessly as possible. Let me know how you make out.


Thanks for the tips. Actually, I am using MAMP, and I followed that video (or a similar one). I wasn’t able to connect to my database, so I Google’d for help, and it appears to be a fairly common problem. One suggestion was to modify a couple MySQL files ( and; however, it didn’t work for me.

I then installed the Acquia Drupal version and was surprised when I couldn’t even find the Control Panel - and I couldn’t even post on their forum. Sheez.

I wasn’t aware of Virtual Box or Drupal Pro; I’ll have to check them out. I’m reading some WordPress documentation right now and saw Bitnami mentioned there.

It would be really interesting to know some of the specific differences between Drupal and WordPress. I think the verdict is unanimous that WordPress is more user friendly. The general consensus seems to be that Drupal is more “robust,” though many WordPress fans don’t agree. But what does “robust” mean?

From what little I’ve learned about the two programs so far, I’d guess that Drupal might be better able to handle heavy traffic, something I won’t have to worry about for a while. :wink:

Katie, its simple, once you understand the structure of the templates, you can modify one to fit your own design, for any CMS out there. So first you design, then tweak a blank template to fit your design. Youll get better at it with time :wink:

Yes, I’ve seen those suggestions and it seems to me to be quite un-user friendly. On OSX 10.6, I used the OEM Apache/MySQL + PHP and made all of the appropriate updates but when I upgraded to OSX 10.8, it blew away all of my configurations so moving forward, until I find a more friendly method, I’m using virtual machines to build a local LAMP stack (bitnami). I used WAMP on my Windows laptop and it worked just fine.

I’ve never used the Acquia tools… I’ll have to have a look at that. Who knows, there might be something useful.

Well, from my experience, Wordpress started out with simplicity in mind so that anyone, regardless of their technical abilities, could set up and run with it. Drupal on the other hand was pretty much the opposite. Wordpress I think is known for being good to build simple sites quickly and Drupal is known for being very flexible and good for complex sites but is difficult to learn.

I think that’s changed quite a bit in the past decade but both Wordpress and Drupal’s reputations haven’t really budged. Drupal is still known as the big hammer that’s hard to get a handle on and Wordpress still has a reputation for building blogs and simple websites. More accurately in this day and age, I think Wordpress can be extended beyond the simple sites it is known for and I know that Drupal can be set up to be as simple if not more to administer. Recently I gave someone with some WP experience a Drupal tutorial. During the overview I said something about how the Drupal site should be about as simple to manage as her Wordpress site was but once we were done, she said that the Drupal site was way easier to edit and create content for than her old Wordpress site. I’ve heard that a few times too.

@Katie: Sorry for getting so far off topic :blush:

This is what I’m slowly finding out! Thanks so much for the words of encouragement. I’m going to do just that: play with a few different programs and their blank templates until I find which one works best for me. :slight_smile:

No it’s great! I enjoy reading what others have had issues with because I may have them myself down the road. I know exactly where I’m coming when I need help in the future! You guys rock! :cool2: