Since joining Atilus I have come across another web developing platform named ExpressionEngine which has been used in the past for several clients. For me to successfully implement a brand new website in this system, I decided to dive head-on into a training class offered by Creat//ee – specialized tutorials developed by a team of designers with expertise in the system.
Jae Barclay of ejaeDesign LLC. leads the classes – a seasoned professional in Web/Interactive Design with over 6 years of ExpressionEngine experience, keeps the small classes in a friendly and personal tone. The students involve a mix of designer agency developers and freelancers to pick up skills that assist their clients and construct more robust websites.
ExpressionEngine 2.0 has been launched in the past year, so participants were more familiar with the 1.0 system – some taking this class as an introduction to the new version prior to the switch – which according to our mentor was no simple feat. As avid followers of the ExpressionEngine system, Creat//ee, defines it as different monster in itself from other comparative tools available out there such as Joomla, WordPress and DotNetNuke.
Brief Introduction to ExpressionEngine
In the very beginning of our training session, we reviewed a basic Law-themed site which we will build throughout the course in ExpressionEngine. There was also a review of live sites that have been implemented in ExpressionEngine, from their Agency and other companies – all over the world, the emphasis placed in the platform’s reliability and flexibility. Here are some of the sites mentioned:
- IACP.com > jqueery, multiuser blogs, video, google api map
- TopGear.com > XML data driven widget
- Eattv.com > Multi-user blogs, Video, Picture
- Filmforum.org > Video, Booking application
As mentioned in the training, ExpressionEngine is not an alternative to CSS and XHTML, but an essential complementing piece needed in good website development. As required skillsets to work in EE, even though personally I believe web design experience is a must, the speaker mentioned “chop-shops” could be used by folks that are more visually oriented and have difficulty with CSS and XHTML implementation.
The successful implementation comprises of six steps:
- Setup Custom fields > An entry could contain multiple fields used to be required per entry in 1.0 – not now in new version 2.x. Each entry (post/page) is comprised of several custom fields.
– Published layout – now one field can be used as “master for the entire site
– Ability to show and hide different fields per channel and per member access (editors, proofreader etc.)
– creat-ee.com/tutorials > Has several free tutorials including – Taming published layouts – explains published layouts – fields for each channel – to implement a decent and useful edit form for your clients (Published layouts enable admins to customize complete layout for backend data-entry. Click and drag options, great flexibility in field height/location in the backend. Customize menus, submenus powerful and easy entry forms.)
- Setup Categories > Can be applied to multiple entries, but an entry does not have to belong to a category
- Setup Channels (Group of like-minded entries) it could appear anywhere – individual self-contained pieces of content > One entry per channel “used to be called webblog in 1.0”
- Setup Templates
- Setup global variables and snippets > Use Categories and channels as URL
- Setup file upload settings > First, good idea to setup FTP, makes easier for implementation; setup assets folders and assign permission to users.
For the server folder structure, there are several default ExpressionEngine folders, but according to our mentor, saving to EE system default files is a bad idea. If there’s a system upgrade and some of the system folders are changed, you might break the entire site. Best practice: create a folder called Assets at the root and place everything in there: template, css, images, documents etc.
- www.eec.ms – There are plenty of add-ons, which help save money and time on implementation.
- www.devot-ee.com – Has list of several add-ons with star rating system to assist in slim pickings
The add-ons and existing sites are really impressive and leave the viewer asking for more. Even though the word Robust is used sparingly during our sessions, some questions are still lingering regarding the system’s performance as it relates to scalability and load speed. But those are questions I hope to have answered before the training is finished.
Monthly free introduction webinars by Jay from Creat//ee are available to those interested in learning more about the system.