Craft is a Content Management System aimed at developers. It came out of Beta in 2013 and has been growing in popularity and features at an astonishing pace. In our opinion Craft now stands head and shoulders above the other options we have worked with.
The adoption of Craft is still small compared with established players like Wordpress. Having never heard of Craft, some clients have been initially skeptical about using it, but loved it once they started using it.
It’s flexible enough to be used on large, complicated sites, with less startup overhead than other robust CMS platforms.
We have now built a handful of sites on Craft and are officially sold.
What our Clients like about it:
A beautifully simple control panel. Everything has a reason – rather than starting with the kitchen sink and tweaking it, Craft starts almost vacant. Even when built up into a complex site, the end result is far cleaner and better organized than Expression Engine, Wordpress, Drupal, or any of the other systems we have used. The entire interface is responsive, so clients can edit and make changes from a phone or tablet.
Live Preview. Craft has a “Live Preview” feature which displays changes on a page live as you edit content. The live preview templates can be tweaked and we have made some nice interfaces for loading visually complex content like adding several pins on a map.
Contributing content is (more) fun. Adding content is still work, but building a page can be a creative and satisfying process. Rather than filling out a bunch of pre-set fields, our clients can build layouts with flexible blocks of content using Craft’s matrix field. These blocks can have layout options, be used multiple times on a page, and the order can be moved around. No styling issues. Our developers still have complete control over the markup of these blocks so layouts just work!
What our project manager likes about it:
Ditto on loading content. Although we believe in building great tools for our clients, we often participate in the content creation and loading process. For all the same reasons our clients like Craft, we appreciate it.
Less tools. Because Craft is a robust tool, we can use the same platform for smaller jobs, and can scale up to larger jobs. We are moving towards having more clients on the same platform, which means we are more efficient, and have greater depth of knowledge of our tool kit.
Yes we can. The answer to “can we add…?” is almost always “yes!” Craft is great for on-going and evolving sites. We can even add full featured e-commerce with Craft commerce. Although Craft commerce is separate, it’s not a plugin and still part of the core system.
What our developers like about it.
Powerful & flexible. Aimed at developers, it's great to work in. There are many subtile aspects to this, but overall work is more rewarding when you can built what you want, how you want to. It has won best CMS for developers. By starting blank and building the content models to start, things just “fit” better.
BYOHTML Craft does not provide any default templates, so websites are built up from scratch. No sifting through and learning someone else’s code.
Do more with less (3rd party) plugins. Sure, 3rd party Craft plugins are available, but we do not need to use many. In fact, we have found we rarely need to use them. Many content management systems are almost unusable without 3rd party plugins (Expression Engine & Wordpress are good examples). The challenge is that these plugins need to be maintained and updated. Some plugin developers are great about keeping plugins up-to-date – Some aren’t.
Paid can be a good thing. Unlike some open source content management systems (including WordPress) Craft is for profit. Therefore, they are incentivized to keep making the product better and are available if you need professional support. This extends to the plugins ecosystem; the precedence is set by a paid platform. Paid plugins get better support.
Amazon S3 - built in Images can be stored in the cloud. Moving between development, staging, and live environments with assets in the cloud means those moves takes a lot less time.
What’s not to love.
Price The price isn’t so much of a problem at the professional level, but it is a barrier to building a large developer community. The features in the Pro version are more than worth while. So while there is a "free" and “client” version, a licence is usually $299 or $1000 for e-commerce (one time, per site)
Image asset organization The asset system is good, and one of the best available. However, compared to the level of polish and intuitiveness of everything else, the asset system feels clunky. Assets can be tied to the entry (and this is great) but viewing the assets from the global view is a bit of a mess.
Developer only. It really is a developer platform. Our designers and project managers have diminished ability to jump in on certain small tasks that are fairly accessible on other CMS platforms.
What else do we build on?
Below Craft - Squarespace If we have a timeline or budget that simply doesn’t allow for Craft we often use Squarespace. Building a Squarespace site requires no coding and comes with various aesthetically pleasing templates to choose from. Squarespace maintains the platform so the CMS gets automatically updated and there is no hosting to worry about. However, as soon as you want to bend a template to fit your needs the process gets much more difficult. Those great looking templates are not very flexible. After just a handful of pages, the efficiency gained in the quick setup can get lost working against the platform.
Below Craft - Statamic is a flat file CMS that makes content out of markdown. Without a database, tracking changes is simple and we can bring in our own HTML/CSS. As we get our craft systems fine tuned, we have been using this less.
Above Craft - Full Custom Our custom applications are built with a PHP framework, usually CakePHP, but we're in the process of shifting towards Yii(the same underlying framework as Craft) We often combine these systems with Craft for clients.
What about Wordpress? We don't use WordPress, it can be a great platform, and we understand the appeal. A WordPress site can be spun up with a template almost as easily as Squarespace, and developers of all skill levels are comfortable with it. We just find more time is spent making it fit and maintaining than building what we really want to build. In our spectrum of what tool fits what job, there just isn’t a spot today.
If you would like a Craft project created by our team of experts, please feel free to drop us a line firstname.lastname@example.org!
Are you a Craft developer living in the Calgary area? We are currently looking for programmers to expand our in house team, please send your resume and portfolio to email@example.com.