When Brian Webster launched his Los Angeles-based development studio he sought a name that would reflect his passion for elegantly simple design. Founded ten years ago, Delicious Simplicity has established a reputation for building clean and clever websites for a select clientele of small to mid-sized enterprise and non-profit organizations. The agency, like pretty much every agency in those days, was a Drupal/WordPress shop. As time went on, modern web design embraced bandwidth-hogging elements like hero images and background videos. Clients definitely wanted these — delivered, of course, at near-instant download speeds and on a plethora of platforms.
At the same time, WordPress and Drupal had grown into cumbersome monolithic applications bearing massive core cruft (WP genericons font library, much? Didn’t think so). These platforms were increasingly unsuited to creating the well-honed, fully-featured yet fast websites that Brian envisioned, and that clients demanded. It was time to find a new way of working.
He was drawn to the idea of headless CMS (content management systems) decoupled from Drupal and WordPress, but the immediate question was how. Brian wasn’t sure if what he needed even existed, but he knew he had to search for it anyway. “We really needed an upgrade path from Drupal 7, but WordPress just seemed like it would be more of the same. Once Drupal 8 launched I didn’t want us to go into that, either,” Brian recalls. “I spent time evaluating custom solutions with Django and Python and Rails, tons of different frameworks, tons of heartbreak. Heading down the road with some of these thinking, at first, ‘This could be great, we could standardize on this!’…and then, ‘Ugh. No. This is a mess.’ Then I’d have to go back and keep doing what we were doing until I could find something else to try.”
So Brian kept trying, and not finding, a better way to develop projects and manage client content. “Eventually, Gatsby came along and I did the same test drive,” Brian says. “But this time I kept going down the road and there was no dead end. It just kept being even better than I had hoped, and I really started to trust that I had found the solution. That Gatsby could be The One.”
There was only one potential hurdle to true romance: convincing the Delicious Simplicity team. They were mainly frontend developers used to working with HTML/CSS, maybe a little jQuery. Stepping across the divide into the backend to confront the complexities of a headless CMS was not in their comfort zone. But Brian was confident he could get them there.
“Once I got hands on with Gatsby, I was shocked how quickly I managed to pick things up. The syntax was just so intuitive, which made it easy to digest,” he says. There were definitely some growing pains — the team had little experience with React or Node, and some of the devs found the new component-based way of thinking overwhelming to grasp at first. But they eventually fell in love with Gatsby and now don’t want to work in anything else.
“The stuff we are doing now! Building functional React components that hook into APIs — making not just websites, but web apps!” Brian says. “I heard my team saying, ‘I never thought I would do this, I feel like a real developer now, not just a themer!’”
The platform’s logical, streamlined tooling made it possible for the Delicious Simplicity team to give their hearts to Gatsby, fully and confidently, as they leveled up their dev skills. “What we are able to produce with the same people now is of massively higher value thanks to Gatsby’s tech stack,” Brian marvels.
Delicious Simplicity’s team is in fact so enamored that they have gone back and refactored the studio’s existing projects into Gatsby. “Any client projects due for updates, we have moved over to Gatsby, because that is where we want to be working. We’ve done about two dozen, there are maybe four left to go,” Brian says.
Refactoring so much previous work was eased by the amount of reusability from project to project. “Our speed of building with each project is accelerated because we are now building our own library of techniques and components within Gatsby as we find them recurring from project to project,” Brian says. “Each project we do, we find a better way of doing something and then iterate that back to the previous ones. We are truly emerging with a set of tools we take forward with us, and keep applying in new ways.” By comparison, he notes, when working with WordPress and Drupal previously the team would build something specific for each particular solution, starting largely from scratch on each new project.
“Before, if there was something we really liked we could theoretically pull into another build — but refactoring it to fit was so involved it would rarely be worth the time investment.” Brian says. “Gatsby, on the other hand, enables such seamless reusability between builds that there have been times where it has just been copy, paste, done.”
“It took serious searching to find the perfect framework I was looking for, and there were times I really thought I would never find the one.” he concludes. “But it was totally worth a little heartbreak to finally get to Gatsby.”
Next up: In Part Two, see how Delicious Simplicity and Gatsby deepen their happy relationship with the introduction of Gatsby Preview…