Book Review: Drupal for Designers by Dani Nordin

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With Automattic’s WordPress dominating the CMS market it can be tough finding the courage to pick up Drupal. It is great and open source, but also tough for a beginner.

But since Drupal for Designers is aimed at newcomers, all of the material is still fully relevant and applicable to this day. Drupal 8.0 was finally released a few years after this book was published, but all the info still holds true.

If you’re a UI/UX designer or aspiring designer/dev combo looking to learn Drupal this book is a perfect fit. It covers everything you need to get started and a bunch of practical design tips that you’ll take with you into every future project.

Book Contents

One of my favorite things about this book is the large variety of content. You’ll learn a lot of fundamentals for building Drupal websites, but they’re all presented from a designer’s point of view.

Here’s a list of the major sections in this book(each with their own chapters).

  1. Discovery & User Experience
  2. Sketching, Visual Design, and Layout
  3. Setting Up a Local Development Environment
  4. Prototyping in Drupal
  5. Making It Easier to Start Projects
  6. Working With Clients
  7. Sample Documents

Now since my experience is mostly dev/IT related I went into this expecting very little tech talk. And for the most part this is true. But there are many tough Drupal concepts explained in simpler detail for designers to understand.

Most of the initial chapters cover how to design grids, craft a user experience, wireframe the design, build style tiles and conceptualize a layout that could realistically fit into a Drupal environment.

I actually found the first part of the book much more exhaustive and intriguing. It covers things that every designer should consider before starting any web project, Drupal or otherwise. This includes prototyping, project briefs, and writing proposals for clients.

Some readers may go into this expecting more Drupal content and less “business” content. In that case you might be surprised, but in a good way.

This book was released before Drupal 8 and much of the information is specific to Drupal 7. But it’s also widely applicable to the entire development process including topics on Drush and Git.

Getting beyond the design phase you’ll learn how to configure an environment for running Drupal on your local machine. The author seems to favor OS X and Linux environments over Windows, but there are walkthroughs for both operating systems.

Later chapters get into Drupal views, custom modules, theme selection, and basic CSS development with LESS. The writing style is very approachable even to designers who don’t know much about development.

Each chapter is loaded with Drupal screenshots and custom diagrams for explaining each backend process. One area that tripped me up as a beginner was understanding Drupal nodes and how they’re relevant to views. If I had this book when I first got into CMS development it would’ve been a much easier learning process.

At the very end of the book you’ll get some handy tips and techniques for building scalable project proposals. These include pricing guidelines, project discovery ideas, and handling the payments when the project is finished.

Dani was even nice enough to add sample documents that you can mimic for your own work orders and project proposals.

The content does feel a bit fractured at times, but the writing style is simple and easy to get through. Designers will not struggle to comprehend anything written in this book. Developers should naturally steer clear and go for an intro coding book like Drupal 8 for Absolute Beginners.

The Best Stuff

I’d argue that every passionate UI/UX designer will adore this book. It’s not even really just a Drupal book. It reads more like a conversation with a professional designer who touches upon Drupal as a foundation, but focuses more on the actual design process.

Small quotes and interviews with other professionals are littered throughout the pages to help you understand important concepts.

The prototyping suggestions and grid system recommendations are simply incredible. I’d almost recommend this book to a pro Drupal developer just so they could understand more of the design side.

I think Dani strikes a nice balance between theoretical/philosophical concepts and real pragmatic actionable concepts found in Drupal development. Newbies just entering the Drupal sphere will walk away with a sound knowledge of the terminology, how to setup a Drupal environment, and how to configure themes/modules for deployment.

This is like the ultimate intro guide to running & managing a Drupal website without getting bogged down in the code.

If you were looking for a strictly development angle then I’d recommend another book.

But whether you’re a designer, developer, or marketer/project manager, I think Drupal for Designers packs a punch that answers real questions many people have about Drupal.

It’s also a fantastic guide for new freelancers just getting into web design. It’s a competitive field and the advice in this book will give you a leg up.

Some Complaints

All of my issues are very slight nitpicks with certain parts of the book.

For example, the author says that Windows installs can be difficult especially with the Drush command line for Drupal. This may be true for some designers but it’s not that much more difficult than a Unix environment. Granted her opinion isn’t necessarily wrong either. But it stood out to me and I felt that MAMP/Mac users got a better deal than WAMP/Windows users.

I was also looking forward to the topics on theming & modules which turned out to be more basic than I expected. Installing a pre-existing theme isn’t really “Drupal theming”.

Granted there is a decent explanation of the theme hierarchy and how to customize some basic features. But I really wish the author included more detail regarding the technical aspects of theming to either significantly customize existing themes or to build your own from scratch.

I also noticed how the later chapters covering client proposals feel very similar to the early chapters covering prototyping and project management. It almost feels disorganized in the sense that client proposals could have come long before the Drupal content.

But I also think it’s valuable to have these chapters last because they summarize the whole book. Sort of like “now you know Drupal, here’s how to get paid building with it”.

Ultimately I think the biggest complaint is a lack of explicit Drupal content. Since the book is titled “Drupal for Designers” I went in expecting much more focus on the CMS itself. There is a surprising amount of focus on general design techniques, UI/UX work, and even freelancing contracts.

In this regard I do understand the need to, for lack of a better term, “dumb down” the content so that designers can understand it easier.

But I can’t help but feel the book would’ve been even more valuable with a greater dive into Drupal’s codebase.

Final Summary

Going into this book I knew it would be predominantly based in design. I just wasn’t sure how the content would pan out with this direction.

I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.

Drupal for Designers is a refreshing read in the face of so many technical books. It will appeal to all designers and even some developers who want to pick up Drupal from scratch with foundational knowledge first.

The writing style is very simple and easy to follow. Dani provides real pragmatic advice for conceptualizing a project, designing the layout, and working this into a real Drupal project. The accompanying visuals obviously make learning a whole lot easier and help you move through the chapters with clarity.

Granted it would’ve been nice to have more information about custom theming and module development. But for an intro guide I really can’t bitch about this too much.

I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone getting started with Drupal. I haven’t found any other comparable beginner books on this topic, and Drupal for Designers covers so much information in such a clear way that you really don’t need another book.

Review Rating: 4/5


Alex is a fullstack developer with years of experience working in digital agencies and as a freelancer. He writes about educational resources and tools for programmers building the future of the web.