How UCLA helped create an awesome new Plone feature
The Importance of Theming
Ease of theming is critical for Edu sites. Every department and group wants its own theme and every new site needs a new theme, with variations on the institutional look and feel. There also seems to be a constant need for tweaks to themes for old sites so they can evolve and modernize. On top of that, there is typically limited funding available for all this - but there is a talented pool of HTML/CSS savvy students to draw on.
Thanks in part to UCLA, Plone has a great theming solution to this problem with its integration of the Diazo theming engine - a major Plone initiative that began in 2011. Diazo makes it possible for a designer with no Python programming skills to create a Plone theme that consists of a set of static HTML and CSS files, plus rules that map dynamic Plone content into the HTML.
The UCLA Story
Diazo theming was added to Plone in version 4.2, but the process of creating a new theme entirely on the filesystem was still challenging in 2012 when UCLA was getting started on a university initiative to adopt Plone. At that time, several Plone core developers wanted to create an easy to use through-the-web theme editing feature based on Diazo. Although these were some of the most brilliant Python developers anywhere, they knew they did not have good UI design skills. The UCLA team saw a call for help on a Plone discussion forum and they decided to get involved. The result was a beautiful collaboration and a beautiful through-the-web theming experience which was released in Plone 4.3. (You can read more about the collaboration in this article.)
What This Means for Edu
An easy to use theme development process is now possible in Plone. Site designers can browse available themes, pick one they like, and upload and install it as a zip file. They can then edit it in a user friendly environment within Plone, applying CSS, HTML, and content mapping changes and testing it as they go. You can view a brief demo of this on YouTube.
That's good for the Edu community, and good for Plone. Thank you UCLA!