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Empowering content-first design with decoupled content infrastructure

decoupled content infrastructure

Last month, a contingent from Manifesto travelled to the Contentful HQ in Berlin to get better acquainted with a new approach to content management that has the potential to revolutionise the way we design and deliver multi-channel digital experiences. Get ready to throw out your old server-side CMS and embrace lightweight, lightning-fast experiences enabled by cloud-based content infrastructures.

Beyond the headless CMS

It all started when our client asked us to help them replatform their website onto a new content management system. The client, a large organisation working in social welfare, were using a bespoke CMS that had been developed for them some years ago. The speed of change in digital technology meant that they were often asking their developers to make the CMS do new things, and finding it a lengthy (and costly) process to add this new functionality.

Increasingly, organisations are developing campaigns and experiences that span multiple channels, and which reuse the same content in different contexts (e.g. website, email, mobile app, digital signage etc). In order to try to keep up, traditional server-side CMSs have become capable of decoupling from front-end experiences. This new kind of headless CMS acts as a repository for content which can be reused across multiple front-end systems, which call for the content via an API. While this allows for the management of content across multi-channel experiences, the content repository is still a bit one-size-fits-all. And it still needs to be hosted somewhere. The logic of decoupling can be taken even further, for greater flexibility and efficiency. That’s where Contentful comes in.

API-first content infrastructure

Joining mixed teams from all over the world to workshop content models with Contentful was an eye opener. Contentful has taken the idea of the decoupled CMS and taken it to a higher level of abstraction. What they provide, instead of a CMS, is an API-first content infrastructure.

This means that your front-end systems no longer need a rigid, one-size-fits-all content management system sitting on a server somewhere eating up administrative resources. Instead, you design your own content model according to your audience’s needs and your business goals, and then build front-end experiences around that content using lightweight, modern stacks based on microservices.

For example, for our client, we’re using Contentful to deliver the content, Gatsby to generate static web pages using React.js, and Netlify for hosting and deploying the static site. This represents a dramatic improvement over their old delivery workflow because there’s no longer any development work to be done on a CMS – the content model in Contentful can be arranged via an intuitive GUI. The pages being built in Gatsby simply call the content they need through a Contentful API (delivered through a robust CDN). Those static pages load incredibly quickly, since there’s no CMS heavy lifting going on in the background and any dynamic rendering is done in the client.

This approach is often referred to as a JAMstack (JavaScript, APIs, and Markup). The term was coined by Mathias Biilmann to describe a modern web development architecture based on client-side JavaScript, reusable APIs, and prebuilt Markup.

Designing content-first

Anyone who’s worked with a traditional CMS will have experienced the back-end tail wagging the front-end dog, in other words, designing front-end experiences based on what the CMS allows for or mandates, due to its rigid architecture. The content infrastructure approach flips this around, allowing the content to truly drive the experience.

What this means however, is that you have to put a great deal of thought into your content model up front. The approach we’ve taken with our client is to collaborate closely on a content model that is suitable for delivering the multi-channel experiences they need, before bringing the in-house development team into sprints to build the front-end experiences which utilise that content.

Implementing content infrastructure

As Contentful partners, we can help you design and implement a content infrastructure to build, launch and ship digital experiences faster. Contentful was included in the latest Forrester Wave report as one of the 15 most significant web content management systems, so it’s another great string in our bow when it comes to helping our clients choose the right technology stack for delivering content across multiple channels in a way that’s fast, efficient, secure and scalable.

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