MA Web Design + Content Planning materials for applied art for the web • major project

peace sign in Ukrainian colours, blue + yellow

Content Management Systems

Using a CMS for your project will take your site to a whole new level and will allow you to... well, manage your content. This is not to say that your MP will have to make use of a CMS ~ find the best solution for your needs.

There are many options out there - if you feel courageous, you could build your own :D But for now, let's talk CMS.

consider all angles

keep calm and drink tea

The move to working with a CMS is a challenge and you might feel a little anxious. But don't worry, take your time and consider your options and ambitions, and as you know ~ we're here to help so talk to us :)

Before you set out to build any site, be that for a client or for your MP - it will be important to answer certain questions: not only which CMS is best but whether a CMS is the right direction in the first place. Not all scenarios will have a clear demand for a management system though many will do.

questions to ask for client projects

While a client project scenario does not strictly apply to your MPs - the following will still serve as pointers to various aspects of your project which you should consider.

In the case of your MP - my advice would be to look at the whole picture and consider not only the needs of your project but also your learning journey. This is the perfect project to get stuck into and learn. Which way exactly is what you'll have to decide :)

Let's keep this conversation open - come and ask questions - discuss options - just say the word and we'll talk.

A quick word before you start

If you've already worked with any kind of CMS before ~ easy peasy ~ you'll likely know enough to play and experiment and figure out what works best for your project. Even if you've only worked with a CMS as content editor/publisher, you'll likely know quite a bit about how a CMS works from that perspective and what kind of functions your project would need.

But if not, if you're completely new to working with a CMS, especially new from a design/dev angle, then this will be a steep learning curve! — well worth all the work and battles through code but not an easy ride.

You will break things. You will see the white page of death and all will fall apart. But that is part of the journey and how you'll learn — you will get there in the end :)

duffy fighting the black


A CMS is a piece of software that runs on the server to facilitate the creation, editing and overall management of digital media content. It includes an interface for the management of content and the function to deliver this content to the final output. Uses vary from simple scripts for forms etc to bigger solutions for webmail or forums.

The main advantage of using a CMS for a given website is that it will allow the user to modify the online content without the need to code. An interface facilitates creation, modification and deletion of content, updating the database with any changes and delivering the final result to the end user.


CMSs come in different shapes and sizes and can use different technologies. One of the most common is the LAMP stack which is comprised of four open source components: Linux (operating system) + Apache (HTTP Server) + MySQL (database) + PHP (programming language).

icons for AMP stack


When you started learning to code, you were considering the separation of content (HTML) and design (CSS). Broadly speaking, the CMS follows the same principle but adds the database (content) to the mix and uses templates (design). Of course, there's much more to it, but this is one of the core points.

illustration of CMS use

What are the options?

Looking into the various flavours of CMS out there, you'll soon realise that there are many, many differences and just as many different opinions. It is a matter of assessing the project, its mission and the final target group and weigh this against the intricacies of the CMS. There is no easy answer and one size does not fit all.

From a practical angle, there are open source options, proprietary solutions as well as SaaS (Software as a Service). Each has their own strengths and advantages, both philosophically and technically.

Quick note

The links to the various different CMSs listed here are not endorsements per se. I've included links to those most popular or used in the past by our students for their MPs.

difficulty: doable

difficulty level

As most of you are new to web design/dev, I thought it'd be helpful to rate the different technical setups by difficulty so you can gauge the level of challenge ahead. Hover the icon to see detail / read text. Hope it's useful :)

What are the technical differences?

Since their conception, CMSs continue to evolve and there are various technically different systems you should consider. The decision which will fit your project will depend on whether you'll be primarily serving web content to the usual browsers on various devices, or whether your project is more complex and aims to deliver to the IoT (internet of things).

Selecting and configuring the “best” CMS can bewilder and confound, but worry not. Eileen Webb, Karen McGrane, Jeff Eaton, and Ryan Irelan take you through customization, traditional versus “headless” CMSes, design, backend UX, and more in this hour-long event recorded live on August 25.