Imagine, for a moment, that you’re guiding your organization through a web redesign project. The new website promises massive flexibility, since it’s built with components that can be assembled and styled in seemingly infinite ways. You'll finally be able to break free from rigid templates, gain tools to optimize the web experience, and get started on the road to personalization.
You’re confident in the all the work that’s taken place so far, and the project is right on schedule. Everyone is thrilled that the finish line—launch day—is in sight. But lately, you’re not so sure it’s a finish line at all. The features and flexibility of the new site also bring the potential to seriously disrupt established roles and workflows.
Understanding a new landscape
Using a content management system (CMS) in the past was primarily a data entry task, aside from the occasional manual HTML tweak. By contrast, taking full advantage of a modern enterprise-level CMS requires users to have skills in design, marketing, and analytics. The payoff of a more complex content editing environment is greater agility and significantly reduced need for front- and back-end engineering resources in the long term.
To see how a new CMS might disrupt existing processes, consider the example shown in the table below, which lays out a simplified process for adding a new section to a website.
|Old process||New process|
|Agree on objectives and general content structure||Agree on objectives and general content structure|
|Create wireframes||Create wireframes|
|Create visual design comps||Create visual design comps|
|Write content||Write content|
|Prepare image assets for front end developers and/or CMS||Prepare image assets for front end developers and/or CMS|
|Engineering and QA||Engineering and QA|
|Enter final content into CMS||Enter final content into CMS, applying appropriate layout and styling options, setting up personalization and A/B or multivariate testing as required|
|Design and content review||Design and content review, including QA of any personalizations or A/B tests|
Let’s take a deeper dive into how the following activities are affected:
In the new process, wireframes are primarily a tool to sketch out ideas, with executives and marketers as the primary audiences. They are no longer a blueprint for technical analysis or engineering. Nor are they needed for conducting user testing, since example pages can be created in the CMS for this purpose.
Whether the wireframes are simple pencil sketches or fully annotated and interactive, the designer who creates them needs to have a deep understanding of existing components and how they work. Without this knowledge, it will be impossible to leverage the upfront investment in developing a robust design system.
It’s less necessary to create detailed graphic comps since pages can be easily mocked up inside the CMS. In time, as the components become more familiar to the team, it also becomes easier to visualize how a sketch will look when built. As a result, the role of visual design in the new process centers around the selection and creation of images and other media.
Engineering is not required for the majority of design and content changes, reducing long-term costs. Over the long term, new requirements will likely emerge that require developers to extend the CMS, perhaps adding a new component or enhancing an existing one. But when this happens, the whole site becomes more powerful since the updates can often be used on any page.
Building pages in the CMS
The highly visual editing interfaces in modern content management systems mean that assembling a page is no longer similar to filling out a form. In many cases, it’s more akin to starting with a blank canvas and building the layout piece by piece. This means that a solid grasp on the available components and how they can be used is incredibly helpful—the same knowledge required of the designer who created the wireframes.
If the person building the page doesn’t have a fluent understanding of the components, the page designer is then burdened with providing highly detailed specs in the wireframes. This is time-consuming and tedious for the designer, and they will typically still need to review the page design after it's created. So for many teams, simply having a designer build the page is more efficient—or, at a minimum, a colleague with a good understanding of the system and a keen eye for visual details.
Managing marketing functions in the CMS
While building a page layout is a design-centered task, managing the marketing functionality demands a different set of skills. Setting up personalization, A/B tests, campaigns, and digital goal tracking requires a detailed awareness of the organization’s marketing objectives.
Methodical tracking of marketing activities in the CMS is required to keep from inadvertently overriding previous work. For example, if your team is testing versions of a page and a content manager pops in to fix a typo and inadvertently creates a new version, it could end the test or otherwise impact test results. Especially for organizations new to using these features, it’s essential to add a process step for a marketer to review all content changes to ensure that marketing definitions have not been changed in error.
Planning for success
Advance planning will help smooth the transition to the new CMS and allow your team to take full advantage of its functionality. Consider the following ideas as you prepare:
Encourage creativity within constraints.
The designers, writers, and marketers who will thrive in this new environment are those who enjoy the challenge of innovating and solving problems largely within the parameters of a flexible but cohesive system. Think of your new CMS as being similar to a well-stocked kitchen. You want your team to be able to survey the available ingredients, know how to select and combine them, and make a wide range of delicious dishes.
Keep in mind that traditional job titles and definitions may not clearly align with what your organization needs.
When hiring, be as specific as possible about the skills you require, and resist the temptation to copy language from other organizations’ job postings you might see for similar roles. For example, a generic posting for a visual designer will likely attract candidates well-versed in making design comps of web pages. If you don’t need comps but do need illustrations for weekly blog posts and basic video editing for your social posts, make that crystal clear in your job posting.
Strive to constantly improve collaboration across disciplines.
A modern, componentized CMS is intended to provide agility, but that’s going to be impossible if internal teams are siloed. Encourage cross-training, so that content creators understand how components work, and designers understand the marketing activities going on behind the scenes.
By taking these steps, you and your team will be able to reduce frustration and make the most of your investment.