Why too much freedom can be a bad thing

Often clients want to have complete freedom with managing the content of the website – and while I can understand their reasoning behind this, I am also aware how this can lead to confusion with colours, styles and maintaining consistency throughout their website.

The admin area of a website is known in the web world as a CMS, which stands for Content Management System. Managing the content of a website needs to be done in a controlled manner especially on sites where a lot a of data is to be regularly inputted and displayed on the front of the site in a similar format.

Take for example a list of car types, where you may have different categories for the make and then under those the individual car types. Individual cars could include an image, the model and a brief description. Then imagine two scenarios, one where this is inputted into the CMS in a text area with an editor in any way you want, and the other into a form with a button to add the image, and two text fields one for model and one for the description.

By simply having a text area with a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editor, the editor can change colours, font sizes, weights etc. and insert the image into any part of the editable area he / she chooses. You can imagine how this can both be more time-consuming – since these choices having to be considered and executed– and how inconsistent this can appear on the front end of the website, especially if there are different editors working on the site. In addition if the editor uploads an image which is far too big or the wrong format it can make for unsightly results.

The beauty of a form instead is that the editor only has to think about the content itself and inserting or uploading it to the site. All design decisions are made at the stage of constructing the website and are implemented onto the specific parts of the form as pre-determined by web designer and client. When adding the model of the car, the CMS will automatically make it a certain size or font weight, when uploading an image it is automatically resized. This both saves time and ensures a consistency across the site, which looks cleaner and more professional.

Of course, this doesn’t mean freedom should always be restricted on a CMS – there are many times when a repetitive look is not what is required, and the ability to bold, italicise, underline words where needed or randomly insert images can make for a more creative or interesting page, such as on a blog. These are decisions to be made in the development stage of the site, and it is based on the requirements of the client as well as their creative skills and ability to resize or manipulate imagery.

Whatever is decided, the aim should always be to have a site that can be updated in a simply but effective manner, and that’s exactly what a good CMS should do.

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