Putting a Responsive Front End on a Complex Back End System

By Bill Zoelle, Chief Creative Officer

Published: July 2, 2014

When technologists think “content management system,” a general sentiment typically comes to mind. Sure, a good CMS provides unprecedented business value. But such a system can also be thought of as costly, lacking flexibility, a long term investment, and quickly antiquated. After all, when a company buys into a big system it’s usually a result of extensive research, vetting, and millions of dollars invested in a CMS intended to last the next decade. As years pass by and technology changes by the day, there arises a need for flexibility especially in catering to a growing mobile audience. Historically, large content management systems like SharePoint and Sitecore tend not to have a very user-friendly front end, at least not by default. They are excellent for managing business data but don’t usually translate to an appealing virtual storefront from a customer perspective. A big part of this is the fact that most CMS and WYSIWYGs haven’t been keeping pace with mobile:

  • They allow users to use inflexible HTML such as table elements.
  • Many allow users to upload images of any size. Sometimes this means users upload a 3mb image.
  • Users of them aren’t trained to consider laying out content for mobile. They also lack the skills to write the coded needed to make content mobile friendly

Because of the previously stated issues, they fail due to garbage in, garbage out. But with the right strategy and team in place, it’s possible to create a user friendly, mobile friendly website tied to a complex CMS using responsive web design. trash-[Converted]

Start By Considering User Experience

As with most interactive projects, there’s a danger here of putting the technology cart before the strategy horse. We see this happen often when businesses take an approach that is data first, an easy trap when always dealing with the boxes and constraints of a CMS. Labeling a form field as “customer data” instead of “your name” is an all too common example. In order to successfully personalize the look and feel of your brand online without ditching your CMS, start by considering your user’s experience through a combination of design flow and content considerations. Cleaning up and restructuring existing content in your CMS to make it appropriate for a responsive design is crucial. Responsive design won’t fix a content problem—but content strategy will. Think about what information and data your customers need and where they will view it. A good content strategy and solid design is the foundation of customer experience. From there, responsive design implementation is like the icing on the cake. It also helps to put some parameters in place in your CMS to help ensure a consistent and good user experience. These may include:

  • Locking down the areas of the page/site that can be edited. Rather than a giant content box, carefully review areas of the site that are frequently updated and allow for them to be edited in a structured way.
  • Custom editing the CMS so that it allows for custom layouts that have been pre-built for responsive.
  • Spending extra time training users of CMS

Maintaining simplicity on large websites while maintaining a good user experience and welcoming new technologies becomes increasingly difficult as content requirements grow and tiers of navigation are added, not to mention the extra complexity added by small screens. But when your content and design are interesting to people and adjust based on their needs, the likelihood of successfully communicating and organize complex business data increases.

Take a look at a few examples of ‘The Good vs. The Ugly’ when it comes to responsive and content management systems.