Building a Drupal site can be a bit of a daunting task for beginner web designers, but there are a few strategies that can make the process a whole lot easier and less frustrating. If you take your time with it, you’ll find that Drupal can be a pretty flexible CMS. Here are five Drupal secrets that’ll help you get the most out of your Drupal site.
1. Don’t Use Drupal User Pages as Actual User Pages
As mentioned, Drupal can be a great, flexible CMS that allows for efficient site building. However, this doesn’t mean that all of its built-in features are the best ones to use, the prime example being its rather cumbersome and ineffective “User Pages”. Drupal’s user pages are not nodes, and thus don’t allow for the different features that nodes would normally allow for. You can’t allow for user comments on Drupal user pages, for example, and you can’t use CCK on them either. Fortunately, you don’t have to use Drupal user pages as your site’s user pages. Instead you can simply use an actual node, and employ the Drupal user pages for keeping account information.
2. Take Advantage of Blocks
Drupal Blocks allow you to add a ton of neat sidebar features to current or multiple pages. These Blocks can contain things like similar links, “people who liked this also liked this” links, subscribe links, most bookmarked lists, etc. You can try adding such sidebar features as nodes, but you’ll run into trouble when you want to move the piece of text elsewhere on the site, like with a block you use for your Drupal site search.
3. Use the Theme Feature
Drupal’s theme function is a huge advantage and should definitely be used, especially if you’re just starting out learning the Drupal system. Themes allow you to run any function from a core or module file. By putting a theme in front of it, the function is over-ridden in your template file. This means that you are able to modify very easily the way a table or user name, or even a comment appears on your site.
4. Most of the Work Can be Done with Page.tpl
Most of a Drupal site (roughly about 80 to 90% of it) is page.tpl. Because the page.tpl alone is what’s going to determine most of your visitors’ first impression of your site, it’s important to focus your design attentions on it. The trick here is to simply treat the page.tpl as you would any other site. Start with a Photoshop layout that fits your vision for the site, then export different elements from the Photoshop layout over to the CSS and page.tpl.
5. You Can Override Core CSS Files
Drupal allows you to actually override core CSS files if you need to. If you would like your tabs to have a customized theme, or a theme other than the default Drupal one, you can insert your own style CSS that cancels out the system’s CSS, without having to delete the CSS file from the core system.
It’s also good to remember, as you start exploring the various features of Drupal, that it helps to also learn to follow the flow of Drupal. It’s a fairly comprehensive and intuitive management system once you get the hang of it.