research design laboratory

Less is More, More or Less

After recently expanding their distribution nationally, our friends at SNAP! Magazine have been getting more attention and it was time to revisit their artist galleries. Due to limited resources and a time crunch, we needed a way to quickly and easily build out the functionality. But it also needed to look nice.

One of the easiest ways to get a head start on development is to use a contributed module or existing codebase as your starting point. The volume of contributed modules is one of things that makes Drupal so wonderful. But the ubiquity of 'plug-and-play' functionality comes with a curious side effect: once a developer realizes they can just switch on a feature and their clients are happy, everything starts to look the same.

A common sighting online is the popular Lightbox2 image overlay: an image appears, expands vertically and horizontally over a semi-transparent background, scaled to fit the browser window. It's a great feature for image galleries, but all too often it's just turned on with the default settings and left as is. Because we were working with an old Drupal 5 site and we knew this feature would work well, we wanted to use it. But we needed it to look good. In this case, SNAP! wanted a stripped down, simple gallery that reflects their clean aesthetic.

It turns out that it doesn't take much to spruce up (or strip down) your gallery with a some basic configuration changes and few lines of CSS. After installing the Lightbox2 module, we got rid of the animation, disabled the zoom, removed the default close link ("X"), hid the slideshow pager, turned off the download link, disabled the image details stuff, and made the background white without any transparency. The result: a simple, clean, easy-to-use Lightbox2 gallery that doesn't look like every other Lightbox2 gallery out there. Click a thumbnail and you just get the full sized imaged, centred on a solid white background; click again and you're back in the gallery. Nice. Easy.

Open source software projects are shaped by their contributed modular features and I encourage developers to consider using them whenever they can. But these modules are often built to best accomodate as many use-cases as possible and will often include features you may not need to use. If you don't need the feature, turn it off.

Sometimes less is more, more or less.