Recently I did a little side project to improve the website for a non-profit animal shelter in our town. The existing site was an outdated Microsoft FrontPage menagerie, so basically anything I did would be a big improvement.
I spent around 20 minutes creating a simple design in HTML, and then several hours editing, rewriting, and refining the copy. In the end, I reduced a scattershot 25-page website down to about 8 focused pages written in a friendly tone.
My next instinct was to apply our great modern web toolset to the site. Let’s add a static site generator or a CMS! Let’s add Sass and a grid system! Let’s do more fashionable things!
Then I started looking at those tools critically. A static site generator usually requires knowing Markdown and esoteric commands and configuration. A typical CMS will need setup, logins, security patches, templates, and maintenance. Even hosted CMSes have a lot of cognitive overhead, and the content is trapped away inside someone else’s system.
These are tools made by geeks, for geeks. Why do we need a CMS for an 8-page site? And for that matter, why even bother with Sass? Regular old CSS can do the job just fine.
Who knows who will take over the site in the future. I’ll hang with it for a while, but someday someone else might have to work on it. It would surely be easier to do that with 8 simple, straightforward HTML files than with some custom WordPress installation that’s several versions out of date. So what if I have to repeat the navigation markup 8 separate times? It’s not that hard. We used to do it for much larger sites!
Today, a basic HTML/CSS site seems almost passé. But why? Is it because our new tools are so significantly better, or because we’ve gone overboard complicating simple things?
As builders, we like tools and tech because they’re interesting and new, and we enjoy mastering them. But when you think about the people we’re building for, the reality is usually the opposite. They need simple designs, clear writing, less tech, and fewer abstractions. They want to get stray animals adopted, not fuss around with website stuff.
Remember when the web was damn simple? It still can be. It’s up to us to make it that way.