The CMS curse


There is the time in the life of each designer when you need to deliver a project to your client. Several times a year or few times a month, doesn't really matter. The work is done, you did everything you could, to deliver the best product. You covered all your corners. It's time to let your project live it's own life, outside your supervision. Sometimes you will get to work on it, nourish it, polish and make even better. But sometimes when you least expect, it'll come back from the grave to bite you in the ass. This is exactly what this story is about...

Mysterious client

When I was a young designer.. which was not so long ago as you might think :). I had a client who wanted me to design his company website specifically in dark colors. Based on my education, years of experience (I had a few dark websites in my portfolio already) and best practices I designed a website in dark gray tones. I used light gray for paragraph text and lighter gray for the headings which on dark background was comfortable enough to read. I used red accent color for links and buttons, not only to complement brand guidelines but to clearly show which elements on the page are interactive.

The CMS curse

Then! The content management system enters the stage (CMS for friends)! The wolf in lamb's clothing. Nasty little fellow. Well... not that nasty actually, it can be quite useful, if you use it right. But deep down inside of it there are color swatches, custom styles, FONTS! Like Comic Sans or Times New Roman, good Lord, so many possibilities... And each one of them can fuck up your work in matter of seconds.

Here comes the drama

After the project was ready and I've got paid. Client was happy with his website for over a year. Then, out of nowhere he felt that it's time for some changes. God only knows why instead of working on a content, he decided to tune it up graphically. Make it better, obviously. So he made gray paragraphs white and some even red. Red so intense that started to bleed from a screen making Quentin Tarantino proud. He used the same red color partially on headings to make things more interesting. And in other places, the exact same color that was used to communicate interactive elements. Leaving the site in bloody mess, literally.

This is all my fault

I get the feeling i'm not the only one there touch by the CMS curse. And quicker we get this we can start doing our job like we supposed to.
This happens when our clients don't know what's our role as designer is exactly. It happens when they think that we are merely pixel pushers. People who possessed the ability to use photoshop and know some html and have an “eye for design”. People who make things pretty. And that's it!

Guess whose fault this is. Mine, yours, ours.

I bet none of this would happen if I walked my client through each design decision i've made. Taught him how things work and why they are the way they are. Proving that i'm not a pixel pusher but a problem solver. If I did that, I bet he would think twice or wouldn't think at all about changing font color on his own again.

The deal with dark websites

Dark websites are tricky to design. If we use a high contrast colors like black and white, the paragraph text becomes hard or impossible to read without serious eye fatigue. It happens because human eye recognizes white color as a source of light, which stimulates all light sensitive receptors. If we turn down the contrast a bit and use gray text on dark gray background, reading will be more comfortable. I know it, you know it to now. But lots of people don't. So if you want your clients to respect your work, describe them what you do and why you do it. Educate them whenever you can. Trust me, it will benefit you too. If you want to read more why you shouldn't use white text for paragraphs on black background, give this a try.