Artisteer: A Review for Drupal Developers

Sean Reiser

Artisteer: A Review for Drupal Developers

There are 2 types of Drupal Consultants (yes I know these are stereotypes and many people fall in the middle).

The first type is the designer. The person who immediately know which fonts go together. They don’t need the eyedropper tool in Photoshop to identify colors, they know the hexcodes the same way average people know light from dark. A one pixel difference is a matter of life and death to them. It has often been suggested that Monet’s Waterlilies were a blatent ripoff of this person’s finger painting. If this is you, odds are Artisteer isn’t for you. You’ll be frustrated by the lack of options and control.

The other type is a developer. The person who eats code for breakfast lunch and dinner. He can’t tell the difference between red and green. He can’t draw a straight with a pencil and 2 rulers. In kindergarden his teacher, Mrs. Smith, would display his artwork in the coat closet because that was the room for all the “special artwork”. If perchance this is you, it might be worth an hour to take a gander at this tool.

Over the last few weeks I’ve heard about Artisteer, a tool that can automatically design and create Drupal, Joomla!, and Wordpress themes as well as static HTML and master files for an ASP.NET application. I was a bit skeptical, but as my artwork is still hanging in Mrs. Smith’s closet (she never would give them back to me, something about a psychiatrist’s evaluation), so I decided I’d give it a shot.

Artisteer is rather interesting. It has a number of predefined color pallets, layouts, typographies, graphics and other design elements built into it. There is a “suggest design” button which assembles all the design elements into a sample site. You can override any of these settings manually and ask for suggestions on any group of elements. For example, let’s say you have a Client’s Logo which gives you a color pallet and font family to work with. You can enter those and have Artisteer suggest menu settings, page layouts, backgrounds, button settings, etc. When you have something you like you hit export and have a shiny new Drupal Theme.

To be honest this isn’t going to replace a designer for that middle to upper tier website you’re working on and I’m not sure I agree with Artisteer’s claim that you can make “fantastic looking” themes, but I would say they are better then serviceable. The designs seems smart, if a little cookie cutter. I do see a number of uses for it:

  • That small project with a limited budget where you can’t afford a designer.
  • That project where the theme is still coming but you need to show off what you’ve done so far.
  • Quick application prototypes.
  • Anytime you’re saying “Darn, I need something to replace Garland in this but don’t have the time”

I wanted to spruce up this site, and I used Artisteer to do that you can see the results looking around. In under an hour I built this theme from scratch. In this case it is heavily influenced by the original design for this site (I have a thing for navigation above the masthead, and the color blue). Basically, I entered the colors and my masthead, selected a layout and scrolled though the other options until I found something pleasing. It got me about 90% of the way there (where stock themes usually get me 80% of the way). When it was done I still did some minor tweaks to the theme (I prefer that my tags go above the story, Artisteer forces them below), but I was up and running quickly.

Some notes on the theme:

  • It will work with D5 and D6. There is code in the theme to use the right API calls.
  • The code itself is rather clean from a PHP POV. I always worry when using code generators that I’m going to get bad code to work with.
  • For some reason the Artisteer created a page-blog.tpl, page-node-add.tpl and page-node.tpl which were all identical to page.tpl so I deleted them.
  • You can’t create regions beyond content and 2 sidebars. If you are looking for something fancier this isn’t going to work for you.
  • Regions are fixed and not collapsable.
  • Panels seems to be entirely foobared using these themes (although that might not be Artsteer’s fault, sneezing too close to Panels in D6 causes issues)

In closing, keeping in mind the limitations I’ve mentioned, I feel this is a great product for the artistically challenged. It will help move folks away from stock templates and into something more custom.

Sean Reiser

Hi I'm Sean Reiser

#NewYorker #DrupalDeveloper #InfoSec #Photographer #GEEK #Whovian #MYSTie #LetsGoYankees #LongSufferingJetsFan #NAKnight #Quinquagenarian #CommitAwesome

I'm a 51 year old Flushing, Queens based technologist who specializes in developing, supporting and maintaining websites built in Drupal.  I am an avid photographer and all around geek.  Feel free to look at my blog, or head to my home page to learn more about me.