FullCodePress: Pre-built vs Custom?

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One of the most interesting outcomes of last weekend’s FullCodePress international site in a day event was that each team chose a wildly different approach to tackle their client’s site.

The Aussie team chose to use a pre-built, open source CMS (Drupal) while the CodeBlacks (Team New Zealand) chose to build their site from scratch.

Initially my thoughts were that the CodeBlacks had bitten off way more than they could chew. When I stuck my head into their room at the 11th hour (actually, the 23rd hour) the team was huddled nervously around one screen, while their programmer scratched his head and began doubting himself. However, full credit to the team’s programmer, Mark Rickerby: despite having had no sleep and being under enormous pressure he managed to resolve whatever technical issue it was that was holding them up, and his team came out victorious.

In the post-mortem, the New Zealand team asserted that a custom build was the right solution for their client; given the scant resources that would be devoted to working on the site, and the general low computer literacy of the organisation, the back-end admin screens needed to be as simple as possible — more simple than any out-of-the-box solution could provide. However, they also revealed later in the day that they had in fact made the decision to build their CMS from scratch in the weeks leading up to the competition.

In the Australian camp, the benefits of leveraging an existing CMS failed to eventuate in the way that the team had hoped. Team Australia’s front-end coder, David McDonald, confessed to me that he had spent most of his time overriding the default styles that came with Drupal, rather than investing time in building new pages or styles. The Australians, however, made this call in the first couple of hours, after they had assessed the client’s needs and capabilities.

So I’m interested in hearing from a few readers: how do you make a call on whether a client’s needs are best suited by a CMS, and whether the job needs a custom build?

If you answered CMS, which one? And if you answered custom, would you change your answer if you only had 24 hours to complete the job?

Matthew MagainMatthew Magain
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Matthew Magain is a UX designer with over 15 years of experience creating exceptional digital experiences for companies such as IBM, Australia Post, and sitepoint.com. He is currently the Chief Doodler at Sketch Group, Co-founder of UX Mastery, and recently co-authored Everyday UX, an inspiring collection of interviews with some of the best UX Designers in the world. Matthew is also the creator of Charlie Weatherburn and the Flying Machine.

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