The Future of Drupal Theming: An Overview of Emerging Trends and Tools

30 Oct 2023

Drupal started as a student project in Belgium. Initially, Dries Bytart devised a communication system between students living in dormitories. But the Drupal software and community have grown significantly over the years. For now, ten significant versions of Drupal have been released. 
In this article, we will talk about Drupal theming that makes our sites precisely how we see them. It is impossible to divide them into good and bad strictly. Some templates suit your project and those that look out of place. Drupal allows you to use both templates and customize themes individually. Developers constantly offer improvements and updates. Stay updated with emerging trends and tools to ensure you have a competitive edge in the changing landscape of Drupal themes.

Drupal theming: what is it?

Drupal themes appear on any page the user views in their browser. Themes are a layer between your Drupal content and your website's visitors. As soon as a page is requested, Drupal assembles the content to display it in a visually structured manner.
Themes are what make a Drupal website look like it does. Developers use HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and other front-end assets to implement a site design. Each theme is a collection of files that define the presentation layer. Themes are generally one of the first places code is customized for a Drupal site. In many cases, they are dedicated to the area they were created for.
Since Drupal's inception, developers have continued to work on theming to improve the users' experience. Drupal themes are not complex but user-friendly and straightforward. Choosing suitable themes and quality content will take your site to the next level.

Responsive Design and Mobile-First Approach

Building responsive website designs is necessary today to provide users with an excellent experience. Drupal themes allow you to create a mobile responsive website. Many out-of-the-box Drupal themes are available for building responsive website designs, like Bootstrap, Omega, AdaptiveTheme, Sky, Corolla, etc. 

  • If you require personalized solutions, Drupal offers various modules that simplify responsive web design. Here are some of them that we can go over:
  • With a modernized Module, you can detect the user's browser's HTML, CSS, and Javascript features. Using this module, you can quickly write code for Javascript and CSS to handle each type of situation based on the results.
  • The picture module allows site administrators to optimize images for different devices and helps build responsive website designs. So the images can scale depending on the screen size and resolution.
  • To embed video media into your responsive website, you will need the FitVids module. This module supports Youtube and Blip—TV, Vimeo, Kickstarter, Facebook, etc.
  • Breakpoints Module is used by other modules to achieve a Drupal responsive design. You will need a theme to define breakpoints stored in a file and then read by the database. 
  • Context Breakpoint Module. With this Drupal module, you can define a context for a breakpoint. For example, you can use a narrow template for a screen whose width is less than 800px. It also detects the browser and screen size.
  • Using the Responsive Menus Module, you can choose between different responsive styles of menus and configure at what screen size they need to be handled.
  • The Panels module gives you more control and flexibility on the layouts of your site. It is a drag-and-drop content manager and lets you play around with the design giving you a real-time feel of your page.
  • FitText Module is great to help you build Drupal responsive design websites. If you want the font size of your text to increase and decrease automatically to fit in the container, this FitText module is helpful.

Component-Based Theming

Recently, there has been a surge in the popularity of component-based theming, particularly within the Drupal community. This approach enables us to construct using a more uniform component-driven methodology and then connect the components as necessary in Drupal templates. This is fantastic news for those of us who want to create front-end systems that use their logical organizational patterns (e.g., atomic design) and that can drive a living (always up-to-date) style guide.
In Drupal, components refer to reusable sections of the design that adhere to atomic design principles. This approach offers competitive advantages such as:

  1. Any update to its template/style would automatically reflect this change across all those content blocks.
  2. Translating a visual design into a user interface becomes much easier using a component-driven UI approach.
  3. It confirms UX consistency across all Drupal websites.
  4. We save time and money by eliminating new components.
  5. Changes made in one file reflect changes in all Drupal parts.
  6. Developers can reuse their components on any Drupal website.

One of the most popular component-based tools is KSS-node which generates style guides based on comments and rules in your stylesheets. Setting it up is pretty straightforward, which might be a deciding factor based on your team's technical background. The second is Pattern Lab, a static site generator for PHP and Node. Pattern Lab places much more focus on splitting up components. Pattern Lab working with Drupal isn't easy. For this reason, Shila is recommended. This theme comes with a starter kit which does a large chunk of the tedious work for you.

Design Systems and Style Guides

A style guide is a document that defines the concept and look of your product. However, the exact contents of a style guide vary greatly depending on the company, project, and development team. The general idea is that it should be a clear guideline for both the development team and the client.
The Olivero theme in Drupal, which became the successor to Bartik, was supposed to take the best from it and compensate for the shortcomings to become close to the new generations of Drupal developers. First of all, the efforts of the creators were applied to the selection of colors, readability, focusing users on the content, and compliance with the principles of accessible design:

  • Responsiveness will help theme owners change their design in the future and do it quickly, respecting proportions and harmonies.
  • As a result of the vertical rhythm, the design looks thoughtful and consistent, which makes it easier to understand.
  • The primary font size supports the design's rhythm and stability. It is 18px, and the rest of the text-related UI elements are adjusted to this size.
  • Bright blue became the primary color, and neutral gray shades helped maintain balance. Dark colors make the design accessible, while lighter colors support the elements.
  • The theme settings allow you to choose the width of the logo area and the color of this area to match your company identity.
  • The design considers all the buttons' necessary states and roles so that the user understands why each is needed.

 Theming with CSS Frameworks

Drupal theming is an essential part of creating a successful website. It helps to develop a unique and visually appealing identity for your website and improves the user experience. 
Even in Drupal 6 and Drupal 7, many improvements in the core make it easy for CSS web designers to create themes without having to deal with any PHP code. They can now create beautiful themes that use nothing but CSS files.
In Drupal 8/9/10, to use any CSS framework, something like Bootstrap or Foundation, developers have to be able to control the output of the HTML, specifically CSS classes that are applied to that HTML output. Combining Drupal theming and Bootstrap, you can create a powerful and effective website that is visually stunning, responsive, and user-friendly.

Theming in the Age of Headless Drupal

A popular way to construct Drupal websites is through Headless Drupal. This method involves utilizing Drupal as the content backend, while the front-end is built using various technologies that communicate with Drupal through an API.
The image that the customer views is distinct from Drupal. This originates from the term "headless" - Drupal no longer has a visible top layer and only offers APIs that the front-end can consume and utilize as content sources. It can be constructed using different frameworks and programming languages, but typically it will be one of the following:
Front-end development in Javascript often utilizes frameworks such as React, Angular, or Vue, allowing the ability to create dynamic and interactive interfaces quickly. Occasionally, a fast PHP framework like Symfony or Laravel is used to build the front-end, especially when server-side pre-rendering is necessary. An added advantage is that since Drupal uses Symfony and is built on PHP, the same team can handle both the front-end and Drupal development. Drupal can also deliver content to any technology capable of communicating with its API.

The Rise of Design Systems in Drupal

Drupal needs a modern design to stay user-friendly and popular. It is the Drupal developers that work to ensure that all Drupal theming must comply with the following principles:
Start with user needs. Themes are designed for real people to verify their requirements.

  • Drupal designs are simple and clean. All designs are part of a consistent and cohesive system. Developers don’t introduce new patterns if they can reuse or improve existing ones.
  • Drupal designs should be usable by anyone, on any device or screen size, on a high-speed connection or a slow network, and by people with different native languages, regardless of their accessibility needs.
  • Designs are relevant and fresh. Themes always keep up with emerging trends.
  • Developers use data to support and drive their decisions. This includes analytics, data from testing and experiments, and data gleaned through user research methods, including interviews, surveys, etc.
  • Drupal designers create friendly and welcoming environments to welcome and support users.

To ensure a positive user experience, keeping up-to-date with the latest Drupal theming tools and trends is essential. Your website visitors will feel valued and appreciated by staying informed about design and web development advancements. We are here to help you!