I build websites on popular content management systems (CMS) because my clients need the ability to update content themselves. As I’m designing a website, I’m thinking about what it will take to train a non-technical person to update content in various pages, headers, and footers.

The selected platform plays an important role in how well the website can be built for content management by a non-web designer. WordPress (in the context of this article, I am referring to self-hosted WordPress), SquareSpace, and Shopify are content management systems that each have ways of making this happen. WordPress is the most feature-rich and customizable of the three, and the most complex to set up and maintain. By default, they all offer fairly good CMS usability for the website owner. When a design is coded, it’s important to use techniques that improve the experience for the content manager later on.

There are decisions made in design and during coding that impact CMS usability. For instance, I can always layer elements on top of each other using Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) code. But what happens if my client needs to get at one of those lower layers later? Will they know how to deal with a z-index setting defined in the stylesheet? A what in the what? Exactly. That’s an admittedly simple example (which actually happened in my early days). Still, it demonstrates how design can inadvertently frustrate the act of content management.

There are limits to how intuitive anyone can make the act of content management for a client. The rest is a matter of clarification, not simplification. It helps to have a good user guide and individualized training, either in person or by remote. Still, mistakes will be made, and this is where a cloned staging server takes the fear out of learning. People need a place to practice and reset if they make a mistake before attempting the same on the live website. With a staging site cloned from the live website (and shielded from the public behind login credentials), my clients can play with ideas, layouts, duplicate pages for testing, try out different web form configurations, and more.

By building websites so that my clients can more easily manage their valuable digital content, they can run with their best ideas on their own!