Drupal workflow for small projects

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One of the recent hires dropped by with a few questions about Drupal development in small projects. She wanted to know if it was worth having another person do the HTML and CSS theming if that person didn’t know PHP or Drupal, and what the workflow might look like.

As a Drupal developer who really hates working with cross-browser fiddliness, I think it’s almost always a good idea to have someone else do the HTML and CSS theming. In an ideal world, that person would also create the Drupal theme and whatever Javascript behaviors are desired, but it seems hard to find people who are comfortable with both front-end and back-end development. A reasonable compromise is to have someone else translate the visual design into cross-browser HTML and CSS for the splash page, an inside page (anything representative of the main layout), and other layouts. What takes me four hours of teeth-gnashing may take an experienced designer just one, and he or she might even be happier doing it. So go ahead and optimize for developer productivity and happiness.

Another benefit of splitting up the work is that you can work in parallel. While you work on the technical bones of the application, the designer can get the theme just right. The earlier in the project that you know about complex parts that could be problematic, the better, and this is true for both theme and function. You’ll still need to integrate the theme at the end, so budget at least a few days for that.

So here’s what the workflow might look like:

  1. Developer installs modules and configures them to work together.
    Designer prepares basic HTML and CSS.
  2. Developer fleshes out site and adds custom functionality.
    Designer fleshes out individual forms/pages requiring special treatment.
  3. Developer ports HTML and CSS theme to Drupal.
  4. Developer and designer collaborate on fixing any cross-browser problems that show up.

Build the functional parts of the application before worrying about the theme. Problems in the theme layer can mask problems in the functional layer. If you build the theme first, then build the features, tracking down bugs might take more time.

It’s usually a good idea to build the hard parts first, so you can get a better sense of how much more effort is needed and whether you need to scale things down. If you’re new to Drupal, you may want to build a few easy parts first so that you can familiarize yourself with the system.

Hope that helps!

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