Free newspaper design for Thunder - quick to setup and easy to customize

CTO / Senior Fullstack developer
Thunder web layout

This article was originally posted on Thunder.org and is reposted here with the permission from Community Manager Julia Pradel. 

Not everyone has the necessary resources to engage their own design team. Our Certified Thunder Integrator (CTI) Ramsalt has recognized this need and developed a generic theme that will be available to other Thunder users as an open-source product.

The idea for the theme emerged a few years ago: “We wanted to develop a generic design which newspapers could easily customize to their individual needs” explains Ramsalt’s CEO Yngve Bergheim. “We had a starter kit in mind which could either be used as is, or easily tweaked by a designer.”

The first task was to gather all of the requirements for a design. We arranged focus groups with digital editors from several newspapers to understand their needs. “We also drew upon our own pool of experience,” says tech lead Stephan Zeidler. Ramsalt has made numerous magazines and newspapers since 2011. The analytic process ended up in a 51 pages design requirement specification and corresponding wireframes.

Art director Evgeny Pugachev led the design process while Stephan Zeidler was tech lead. The CTI Ramsalt Lab has offices in several countries among them Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands and Russia, and the Thunder development is directed from the German office in Berlin. According to Stephan, the greatest challenge with the theme’s development was ensuring that everything would be reusable - and at the same also be customizable. Stephan, therefore, relied on a component-based approach: “It is certainly significantly more complicated and takes longer at the beginning of the project but the risk of regressions is much reduced”.

Simple to adjust

The component-based approach also enables Stephan to capture updates from the numerous Drupal modules. “Since we use our own HTML templates rather than the standard Drupal templates, adjustments are much simpler than they would otherwise be.” Another advantage in his view is the lean markup which makes the site significantly quicker and also delivers plus points in terms of SEO aspects. The theme has also been put to the test and further optimized in order to achieve the best possible results in Google’s Pagespeed. It was a project by itself and led to the publication of a series of articles on Planet Drupal, under the heading The ultimate guide for faster Drupal.

The theme was conceptualized over a period of six months with two designers, challenged with the help of several customers and continuously developed along the way - and it is still a work in progress. The three-person development team working with Stephan, also wants to examine whether Drupal’s Color Module can be integrated and how the design could also be used as a demo theme by other CTIs.

Get the new design now!

For company chief, Yngve Bergheim, there is no question about whether the Ramsalt design will be made available to Thunder users: “Anyone that wants to try out the new design can drop us an email on [email protected]. - We want to use the theme as a showcase for publishers evaluating Thunder. Publishers already have the best technology in place in the Thunder distro, the best and biggest community. What is lacking now is a good looking design on the bodywork that fits the top-notch “Porsche” engineering we have in Thunder”, says Bergheim.

Open-source

The design is aimed to be released as an open-source module on drupal.org as soon as the integration with Thunder works seamlessly. There is still some work left: “The design currently makes many assumptions, like how the menu and various article variants look, that there is a search bar or that authors are shown with their names, pictures and even job titles” explains Stephan. The fields for these points did not exist in a standard Thunder. “And that is also a good thing, Thunder should remain as generic as possible” stresses Stephan. This does, however, pose him and his team the question of how the theme can, together with its Thunder installation, show its full effectiveness out of the box. Which is our goal, to have the theme in the Thunder distro eventually.

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