My First Weekend with the Sitecore Experience Accelerator (SXA)

We’re back from Symposium and are building a new Bonfire site using Sitecore 8.2.  We’re applying the principles & patterns of Helix, customizing xDB with account & contact facets that supports our ABM strategy and wiring in engagement plans that will be used by eXM 3.3. 

At the same time our development team is working on this project, I’m building out the same site using the Sitecore Experience Accelerator (SXA).  So, I guess you could say we’re building the new Bonfire site twice.  A little background.  I’m not a developer.  I’m a semi-technical marketing technologist.  I understand the marcom technology landscape and have fairly deep experience with the configuration of Sitecore, but I don’t code.  I’m doing this to get hands on experience with SXA and as a somewhat academic exercise to see how far a Sitecore power user can get without needing developer assistance.  I don’t necessarily recommend this approach if you have an actual project deadline.  It’s just something I’m experimenting with. 

SXA concepts

So, what’s different?  I’ve picked up on a few concepts so far. 

The first concept is that of parallel work.  Being able to work on information architecture and site content at the same time our Front End designer is working on the design is a key benefit of SXA.  And, it should cut some of the set-up work that normally lands on the developer.  That can be a significant savings, especially for organizations that have a growing development backlog.

Page designs, partial designs & site page designs are foundational to the SXA presentation.

  • Page designs are analogous to presentation templates.  We build page templates by using SXA toolbox renderings and partial designs to layout the presentation.  Think of grey box wireframes.  In fact, SXA has a wireframe theme that helps stakeholders visualize page layout without getting hung up on design. 
  • Partial designs contain more granular presentation elements that make up a page design.  Your header might contain a logo, tag line, search control and cart icon.  Those 4 atomic elements can be contained within a partial design. There’s also a metadata partial design that can contain any page level content that isn’t visible.  Taxonomy, metadata, .js tags, etc.  
  • The site page design is a mapping of the page design to a corresponding data template.

Local vs. global data sources.  You can store content at the page level or within a global or shared data source.  This is an important distinction to be aware of and it’ll be important to establish a content strategy before you get too deep.  A traditional content model exercise should help with this.   

Creative Exchange – The Creative Exchange is one of the tools that enables the parallel work.  You can export site as an ‘agency drop’.  That’s a zip package that designers will understand.  It includes the page content as HTML that’s organized to align with the SXA structure and decorated with information that supports the import back into Sitecore.  It also includes all the assets (images, .js, CSS, etc.) that the designers will edit.  Once the designers have the presentation of the site where they want it, they can update it via a Creative Exchange import.  

Who needs SXA?

There was a lot of discussion at Symposium about what SXA means to future Sitecore implementations and what type of customer is a good fit.  

SXA may be a good fit for:

  • Organizations that use a lot of highly structured sites that make use of shared content.  Examples include chapter sites for associations, franchisee sites, affiliate storefronts and conference/event sites. 
  • Organizations that have a larger number of business stakeholders (marketers, designers) that have a variety of different skill sets & competency levels, but need consistency in presentation.  Think of department heads for larger corporations or government organizations that are responsible for their department content.
  • Highly regulated organizations, where content & presentation governance is more rigid.

SXA may not be a good fit for:

  • Organizations that desire highly customized & intricate presentations and have highly trained front end designers/developers.  If your front end team is on the (b)leading edge with React, Redux, Axios, etc.  the structure of an accelerator will likely stifle their creativity and productivity.
  • Sites that have to deliver a lot of dynamic functionality may have to work around SXA functionality.  Single page app (SPA) functionality is an example.

I'll post more on the SXA topic as I get deeper into the accelerator.  If you have any questions about the process or want to follow along, feel free to follow me on twitter.