What CMS for designer/front end developers?

4 years ago from , Founder of http://functionandform.co.uk

I am a self taught front end dev and designer. My knowledge is limited to HTML/SCSS/CSS/JQUERY. Its worth noting that I don't even really understand how to use the terminal, and so bower and NPM which keeps coming up on tutorial sites mean nothing to me. So, at the moment I do the front end and pass it onto freelance back end developers.

Does any one know any simple to learn CMS's that I could realistically get my head around? It's also important that the admin is easy to use. (By the way, I hate Wordpress... admin theme is a mess, code is a mess, and its a glorified blogging platform)

I need the ability to build sites with page trees and breadcrumbs.

Had a look at Umbraco which looks really easy to use, but I've been told by a few back end devs to avoid CMS's that are on windows only servers. Not sure why but i've taken their word for it.

Also i've never understood why so many CMS's seem to be based around blogs? Surely more sites are based around page templates rather than posts?

UPDATE: After considering everyones suggestions I have chosen Craft CMS. Spent just a day so far learning how to use it and its so easy! I can pretty much create a completely bespoke website with CMS now just after a few tutorials. Twig templating language is really simple. SO thank you to everyone who suggested it :)


  • Mitchell Knight, almost 4 years ago

    34 points
    • Mattan IngramMattan Ingram, almost 4 years ago

      WordPress is capable, but I think there are good reasons why so many developers (and content creators/managers) hate WordPress.

      Sure with all the best practices and a lot of work you can make WordPress fast, stable, etc. But the vast majority of people don't want to have to figure that all out when many other alternatives don't require as much thought to achieve that.

      12 points
    • Cory DymondCory Dymond, almost 4 years ago

      This sounds so close to my situation. I think we currently manage 73 sites. Sage 9 looks great, but I'm using Understrap right now for Bootstrap 4 and stripping out a lot of the stuff we don't use. I was initially very resistant to WordPress, and still find some things to be a pain in the ass, but it is a lot better than people give it credit for.

      OP sounds exactly like the type of person who would benefit from the ease of entry that WP provides.

      1 point
    • Geoff YuenGeoff Yuen, almost 4 years ago

      Timber makes Wordpress so easy to use. Along with ACF you can do so many things. I haven't seen any CMS that has as good a functionality as ACF.

      The downside of WordPress for me is the maintenance (upgrading, backups, etc). Flat file CMSs like Kirby and Grav are vastly easier in that regard.

      3 points
      • Stuart McCoyStuart McCoy, almost 4 years ago

        Give CraftCMS a look. Expression Engine is also worlds better that Wordpress/ACF.

        10 points
        • Jake BarryJake Barry, almost 4 years ago

          +1 for Craft. I would put myself in the same boat as you, Todd, and I have configured craft for a few clients and love the UI and flexibility. Twig templating is so much easier to get off the ground quickly IMO.

          2 points
        • Kramer _, almost 4 years ago

          Another +1 for Craft. You can get all the database stuff setup through the admin and access everything through the Twig templating engine. I've never used a better CMS.

          2 points
    • , almost 4 years ago

      Every wordpress site I've been involved in has ended up with an awful admin (including our own site which I am already looking forward to scrapping), has on the occasion been hacked, and seems to be much slower then the sites I've been involved in that have been build using Drupal 8 for example. Drupals admin is always much easier to organise complex page structures.

      anyway, i dont really want this post to turn into why I dislike wordpress.

      1 point
    • Claude AyiteyClaude Ayitey, almost 4 years ago

      Hi Mitchell, I'd like to contact you relating to your experience in managing WP sites. Checked your Twitter in your user bio but it wasn't working. What's an email I can reach you at? Mine is c (at) boughtspot (dot) com.

      Thank you.

      0 points
  • Luis La TorreLuis La Torre, 4 years ago

    Oh Boy. Here we go! The CMS debates, this will be worse than the hunger games.

    22 points
  • Tony GinesTony Gines, almost 4 years ago

    I'd take a look at Webflow. I've been advocating pretty hard for it lately around here. The CMS is pretty flexible and gives your content editors the freedom to edit whatever they want. It also gives you 100% design flexibility.

    18 points
    • Jrtorrents Dorman , almost 4 years ago

      " 100% design flexibility" ? Lol

      2 points
    • Marcel M., almost 4 years ago

      I need the ability to build sites with page trees and breadcrumbs.

      ...big fan of Webflow over here but that's a requirement from OP that Webflow can't easily fulfill right now...

      0 points
    • Todd Padwick, almost 4 years ago

      Web flow is great but not what I need... I actually prefer giving the client absolutely zero creative design ability. Otherwise they end up screwing up the Design theme we created for them. The only place for example I allow a WYSIWYG editor in a CMS is for the blog/article section. everything else is strictly input fields.

      0 points
      • Bryant ChouBryant Chou, almost 4 years ago

        Oh, then you can actually use the Webflow Editor, which restricts clients from making changes to the design, and you can control what parts of the site they can edit: Webflow Editor

        5 points
  • Ronalds Vilcins, 4 years ago

    Kirby CMS - Flexible as hell!

    16 points
    • Andy LeverenzAndy Leverenz, 4 years ago

      +1 for Kirby.

      4 points
    • Renee PRenee P, 4 years ago

      Yep, I'm pretty much in the same boat as OP (plus a little PHP knowledge), and I really like Kirby. Very easy to set up, very easy to learn (you could get by without really knowing PHP) and a clean & simple interface for the client/admin to use.

      Good documentation online and a helpful community in the support forum. Definitely recommend giving it a try.

      1 point
    • Adam RasheedAdam Rasheed, 4 years ago

      Yes!! Can't wait for Kirby 3 to roll out!

      0 points
    • Ktrn DsrsKtrn Dsrs, 4 years ago

      I personally highly agree on Kirby since it is damn fast to learn, install & setup. The file based structure make it a blast to maintain.

      I am also personally fed up about always hearing about Wordpress since there are multiple great CMS out there that are far more modern…!

      0 points
  • Johannes Lamers, almost 4 years ago

    Craft CMS. By far the best and most beautiful designed CMS I've ever worked with. The flexibility is pure magic and possibilities are endless. Full control over your code and markup. And there is a free version for Freelancers.

    13 points
  • Jon Reese, almost 4 years ago

    I'm with Craig, Webflow's CMS is really easy to wrap your head around. Webflow in general is just plain amazing at making it easy for designers to build their own websites. The UI of the interface makes it easy to pick up, and they have awesome tutorials and even gamify learning (like this “learn flexbox” tool they built). Highly recommend. Check it: webflow.com


    Jon Reese // jonreese.com

    3 points
    • , almost 4 years ago

      Sounds like webflow is great for designers, but as a designer/developer I prefer to write my own code. Gives me 100% control over the front end.

      0 points
  • Marcel van Werkhoven, 4 years ago

    It really depends on what you need to build and who your clients are. Most websites need a refresh every 3 - 5 years so it makes zero sense to build everything 'custom'. The ROI on such endeavors is often quite bad let alone the maintenance costs in the long run.

    For most projects all you need is news/blogs/projects, pages and decent SEO. You can build a website from scratch or just use a very flexible front-end theme like Divi and add your custom CSS for styling.

    In the past I've build most things custom and I was against using WordPress as well but at some point you realize that React/Angular/etc. are build and supported by and for Silicon Valley companies with endless pockets and dozens of experienced Javascript developers. The end result for decent basic websites(pages+posts) is often the same (a working website). The difference is in the copy and design (which comes down to CSS mostly).

    Craft is very nice but costs $299 for the pro version for one website. Most clients balk at CMS licensing costs, especially when it's not 'open source'. Everyone knows WordPress.

    I don't think there's a perfect CMS for everything. It really depends on what you need for a project and what you're able to maintain in the long run.

    3 points
    • Todd Padwick, almost 4 years ago

      This is true... However a lot of the websites I do these days are a little more complex. lots of content...

      for example http://www.darwinairport.com.au/

      These days if all a client requires is blog/about etc I suggest that they go to squarespace as it's just not worth doing.

      0 points
  • Thomas Michael SemmlerThomas Michael Semmler, 4 years ago

    Perch. grabaperch.com - you will love it :)

    3 points
    • Andy BrownAndy Brown, 4 years ago

      I'd second that. I totally love Perch. It just let's you get on with the design.

      I feel like Perch starts with the minimum and then you add to it. Whereas it feels like Wordpress starts with everything and you have to take things away.

      I did End The Echo with Perch and it felt perfectly suited to that.

      The admin is so much easier for clients as well. Which I think is a big deal.

      1 point
  • Account deleted 4 years ago

    Grav as CMS, and DigitalOcean as a hosting platform. 5 dollars per month (and you can actually cram more sites on one droplet). In this version, you get admin panel.

    Or if you have 0 money in your budget, then use GitHub Pages as hosting and Jekyll or Middleman as CMS. You do stuff from your terminal.

    You have to learn some templating language along the way but they are super easy and once you get one, you got them all.

    2 points
  • Diego LafuenteDiego Lafuente, almost 4 years ago

    Middleman, Jekyll.

    2 points
    • Tristam GochTristam Goch, almost 4 years ago

      Not really a CMS at all, but this is The Way™ to great, self managed static sites. Not the most client-friendly thing to hand over though. Combine it with Github pages free hosting and you got yourself a soup

      0 points
      • Diego LafuenteDiego Lafuente, almost 4 years ago

        It is a CMS. Like it or not. It is not fully featured as the rest, but does that matters? Does clients do all the upgrades, always? There is many CMS like Middleman with UI that makes the upgrades easily.

        0 points
  • Sebastian GrazSebastian Graz, 4 years ago

    I was in a similar position when I started developing my own portfolio. After it's completion I found that the combo of:

    • Contentful (API based CMS that spits out JSON files)
    • Middleman (for static site generation)
    • Barba (Front end pushState() for super-fast page loadtimes)
    • Tachyons (For consistent CSS classes and helpers)
    • Netlify (And finally the CDN network that pushes my code live)

    Worked really well for me. Heres my repo for the inner workings of my portfolio https://github.com/umbriel/portfolio-prototype

    2 points
  • Craig Keeling, 4 years ago

    If you're like me and want to keep your focus on design, Webflow CMS is the best platform. I don't want to spend time hunting for, updating, and debugging plugins—spending hours on forums, troubleshooting servers, and backing up databases... I want to spend my time creating layouts and interactions, while still having a solid platform that can be optimized for SEO, content-managed by clients (if they need it), and quick/easy to update.

    The fact that Webflow is first and foremost a design tool is where it excels. Every feature that's been added since (a lot) and the build-out of dynamic content for the CMS has made it even better. I use it every day and love it.

    2 points
  • Chase GiuntaChase Giunta, 4 years ago

    admin theme is a mess, code is a mess, and its a glorified blogging platform

    It sounds like you really need to check out Craft CMS. I was pretty much in your same exact situation a couple years ago. Craft let's you control everything. You write your own templates, and it doesn't get in the way. Your small but awesomely-worth-it learning curve will be with the twig syntax to output data in your templates. Luckily, it's all really well documented and there's around 4,500 folks on the Slack that can help you out.

    2 points
    • , 4 years ago

      Nice. You have convinced me. I'd better spend this weekend doing some learning :)

      1 point
    • Ste GrainerSte Grainer, 4 years ago

      I'll second a suggestion for Craft. The templates are really powerful and simple at the same time. Unlike some CMSes (which were built originally as blogging engines and then repurposed for other uses), you have complete control over the structure of data in Craft. There are also different types of structured sections - from single pages to multi-tiered structures (like a knowledge base).

      One of my favorite features of Craft is the Matrix field, which lets you define nested, reusable data structures: https://craftcms.com/docs/matrix-fields

      I like it so much I've used it for 3 separate sites over the last year and I'm actively looking to build more sites with it. Here's a taste of what I built with it:

      2 points
  • Falko JosephFalko Joseph, 4 years ago

    Surprises me Grav CMS isn't mentioned as much. It's great, it has a lot of plugins, it has an admin dashboard and it's flat file based. I use it for all my client projects. You can check them out here: https://polarbit.co/ :)

    1 point
    • Ktrn DsrsKtrn Dsrs, almost 4 years ago

      Grav is great & solid, but the interface is a little bit overwhelming… Which is the reason I always end up suggesting similar CMSs like Kirby

      0 points
  • Zach McKimminsZach McKimmins, almost 4 years ago

    I think it's awesome your self-taught! Keep on learning and improving your skills. Maybe your next step in learning is the terminal. It's scary at first but the more you use it the better you'll get. If you've self-taught yourself HTML/SCSS/CSS/JQUERY I truly believe you can learn anything you set your mind to.

    Here's a codecademy tutorial https://www.codecademy.com/en/courses/learn-the-command-line/lessons/navigation/exercises/your-first-command

    1 point
    • , almost 4 years ago

      Thank you for that link Zach.... I spent a morning teaching myself the terminal now and I think I have now got my head around the basics.

      0 points
  • Michael Frankland, 4 years ago

    All good suggestions here and would suggest with strengths in HTML/CSS/JS you'd be best to look at a CMS like Craft, Grav or Pulse CMS

    Much easier to template and get going than WordPress so you'll hit the ground running much quicker.

    1 point
  • Jeff ReinerJeff Reiner, 4 years ago

    Contentful. Hands down.

    1 point
  • Chris BreitiganChris Breitigan, 4 years ago

    My developer skills are not amazing either but Terminal is something you should really learn at least the basics of. It really does help out with a lot of other things. Anyhow, what I personally do for all of the websites I build is: I build and generate sites with Jekyll and then deploy to either www.surge.sh or Github Pages. For domains I use Domain.com or Google Domains. It's not overly robust but it works for what I want to do and it's an easy workflow. Not overly complicated to set up and once you understand how Jekyll works and what it's capable of, you can really get creative.

    1 point
    • Mitch WarrenMitch Warren, almost 4 years ago

      I use Jekyll for everything also. Do you use surge as a client solution - how is it? I've had my eye on Forestry.io for ages, but they don't yet accept build processes - only raw Jekyll. :/

      1 point
      • James Dinsdale, almost 4 years ago

        Since forestry updates the git repository directly, you can use it to edit content, but let something else handle the deployment. I do just that with forestry and Netlify

        0 points
      • Chris BreitiganChris Breitigan, almost 4 years ago

        I don't get on here very much so sorry I am just now seeing this. But yes I have used Surge for client projects. Only in situations where I will be the one updating the site/content since I do not have a way to connect it to a CMS. This set up is how I created the website for my photography business www.maverickphotographics.com (not an intentional plug, just an example)

        0 points
    • , 4 years ago

      I know... you are right I really do. Its frustrating that so many tutorials brush straight passed it They just start throwing command line scripts at you and assume you know how to use it haha.

      0 points
  • Brandon ZellBrandon Zell, 4 years ago

    Might want to check out Cloud Cannon

    1 point
  • Alec LomasAlec Lomas, 4 years ago

    I definitely think it would be worth your while to learn the command line -- it's one of the things that really upped my development game. Remy's https://terminal.training/ seems like a great resource for beginners.

    As for your question, Siteleaf (which is built on top of the popular static site generator Jekyll) and Kirby are both fairly easy to wrap your head around, I've found.

    1 point
  • Andrew ChernauskasAndrew Chernauskas, almost 4 years ago

    Drupal 8 is great for front-end developers, and uses the Twig templating engine which is knowledge that can be applied elsewhere. Craft CMS is great too.

    0 points
  • David SimpsonDavid Simpson, 4 years ago

    Jekyll is a solid choice

    0 points
  • , 4 years ago

    THANKS FOR ALL YOUR HELP! It seems craft may be my best options. I am going to attempt to teach myself over the next few days. It appears there is plenty of resources to do so out there.

    0 points
  • Daniel PuglisiDaniel Puglisi, almost 4 years ago

    Depends on what's needed. I mostly built custom solutions with Rails based on the update frequency a client has.

    Editable page trees? My experience is most people don't need a feature like that. Most pages don't change their site structure in years and content maybe changes once a year. Even built a gem just for this.

    If something changes once a month or more frequent – like blog posts – that might warrant building a feature for it. But even then. It all comes down to who manages the sites content / updates. If the customer doesn't want to learn how to handle the CMS and you have to apply all updates, go with something you enjoy working with. I for myself didn't like working with Wordpress and went full "static" for most of my clients. Clients are happy they don't need to learn a complex CMS and I'm happy I can deliver fast updates with a few lines of code and a git push.

    0 points
    • Todd Padwick, almost 4 years ago

      A lot of work I have done in the past has required regular alterations to page structures... for example we did a site ages ago for a council where they are always moving pages around multiple times a week and adding new sections. have a look at the mega menu to see what I mean.


      each page also has further sections within them breaking down content.

      (Design ended up getting butchered after I left)

      0 points
      • Daniel PuglisiDaniel Puglisi, almost 4 years ago

        As I said, I think it depends on what a client needs.

        What was the clients reason for changing up the page structure that often?

        0 points