Creative Perspective: Nick Crossland

Sheffield's Nick Crossland shares why he uses MODX, talks about his work and more in this post from our Creative Perspectives series.

By Jay Gilmore
April 5, 2012
Creative Perspective: Nick Crossland

Creative Perspectives is a series of interviews with Designers and Creatives discussing their tools, design and how they use MODX. This first series of profiles and the interview questions were produced in conjunction with CMS Expo. Over the coming weeks we will be posting Creative Perspectives on each respective site. Want to share your Creative Perspective? We'll let you know how in an upcoming post.

Who's Nick Crossland

Name: Nick Crossland
Location: Sheffield, UK
Title: Senior Digital Producer
Company: Rckt
Twitter: @ncrossland

Nick has a first class BA(Hons) degree in Graphic Design for Multimedia and has been delivering innovative online solutions since the very early days of the web. His career has included running his own web design business, digital TV platform manager at the BBC and working at leading creative agencies. He has a particular interest in user-centric design processes, and is also a keen 360° photographer, having been commissioned to shoot locations ranging from rural nature reserves to the Big Brother (UK) house.


Remember your first computer? What was it? Any interesting stories behind it?

Our first computer was an Acorn Electron, a budget version of the BBC Micro in the early 80s. Software came on audio cassette tapes, and took an age to load. But it was, by design, easy to programme – the first thing you saw when you switched it on was a BASIC command prompt. Computer magazines would include pages of printed programmes, which you’d have to type in. More often than not they wouldn’t even work – either due to a typo in the magazine or my clumsy 6-year-old fingers. Trying to figure out what was going wrong was very valuable in learning programming skills (and patience!). It was a good starting point to writing simple programmes – which was the reason the BBC’s Computer Literacy project had been created in the first place.

So...Photoshop or Fireworks or both/neither and why?

Fireworks – ever since I first used it (version 2 in the late 1990s). It’s tools are much more suited for designing for the web than Photoshop’s. It has been sadly neglected by Adobe over the years, with other products receiving similar features, seemingly at Fireworks’ expense. I hope it has a future.

What are young designers and upcoming art directors missing today that you got to experience first-hand when you were starting out?

Commercial reality – a sense of how to deal with and treat clients, how to value their own time appropriately, and to ensure their passion is tempered by the need to pay bills. I freelanced while studying and for several years immediately afterwards, so I learned the hard way!

Similarly, if you had to do it all over again, what do you wish you knew then, that you know now?

That your time and experience is more valuable than you think it is. Know when to take risks and when to play it safe. Everyone’s idea of work/life balance is different, so know what you want yours to be, and stick to it.

Quick, name your favorite 3 “must-have” apps and what makes them so?
  • Twitteriffic – elegant and functional Twitter client
  • Hipstamatic – makes photography more fun, and boring photos interesting
  • Ocado – I use this all the time for my grocery shopping, it saves me loads of time
What HTML editor do you use? (or are you secretly using DreamWeaver in design view? :P)

For years I’ve used Dreamweaver (again, since version 2).

So, how long have you been using a CMS? What led you to start using MODX?

I’ve been using CMS since about 1998, when I developed a bespoke one in Perl for a client to manage their own site. They were a music venue, and wanted to be able to put their gig listings online, and edit them. I think it was quite ahead of its time.

Over the years I tried some off the shelf systems, but at the time there were none that really universally fitted the bill. I’d continue to develop systems bespokely for each client’s needs.

Around 2006, I started at Rckt, kick starting the digital-side of the business. I evaluated a whole load of CMSs, in terms of functionality, expandability, flexibility and user friendliness. MODX was round about version 0.9, but it already seemed to be the best option compared with others available at the time.

What are some “must-have” features and add-ons or features you like most about MODX?

The number one feature is the lack of constraints in template design. The fact that you can take ANY piece of markup, and use it as a MODX template sets it apart over other systems. When you look at the restrictions set out by other systems, it makes you weep. This, combined with the flexibility inherent in the system of snippets, chunks, modifiers, etc., allows us to use MODX in ways it had never been conceived for, and means every site can look and behave differently.

What capabilities does MODX give you and your team that you appreciate most, and why?

One of the ones we most appreciate is the ability to customise the manager. This is a capability close to my heart, as I originally developed the ManagerManager plugin for MODX Evolution. At the time, there was no way of customising the manager, apart from editing core system files. We wanted to make the manager interface even more user friendly by hiding fields that the client didn’t need to see, changing field labels, moving them around, etc. ManagerManager allowed all this and more; including some functionality still not quite duplicated in Revo. We now customise the manager for virtually every site we produce, in order to make it as simple as possible for our end users to manage their content (without breaking anything).

Who touches your CMS? All members? Freelancers? Your Clients? How is that working?

We nearly always build with the client in mind, to allow them to edit their own content.

What are the most important things you’ve learned, using a CMS, versus the “old days” of static web sites?

CMS sites take a lot more “what-if” thinking – a static web site could be tested, and delivered, and the only thing that might change is new browsers rendering it differently. With a content managed site, you have to start thinking about how the site will behave (without breaking) when the length of the content doubles, when there’s more (or less) items in the navigation, when the client decides to upload a massive image, etc. and plan for the worst case scenario.

Bonus Question: If you hadn’t decided to go into the creative realm, what do you think you’d be doing today?

I’d love to be a film or TV writer, editor or director. Which I guess is still in the creative realm – just a different one!

More from the Creative Perspectives Series

If you enjoyed this Creative Perspective take a look at the complete Creative Perspectives series for more inspiring and interesting stories from designers who use and love MODX.