Spring 2020 Update: Drupal, Theme, and Layout System Changes Coming


Institute Communications is about to release their new Drupal 8 web theme and layout system, which you may have already heard about in messaging from them, and you may be wondering how that affects the Ivan Allen College.

As you likely know, we were trailblazers in moving to Drupal 8 about a year-and-a-half ago, and a lot of the work done to get us there has helped inform the rest of campus about best practices for making that move.  However, one of the hurdles of being the first to go was that there was no Drupal 8 Georgia Tech web theme, so we built our implementation along with a page content layout system based on the best framework available at the time, called Paragraphs.  Since then, the Drupal organization developers have added a modern layout system framework (known as Layout Builder) to Drupal, and Institute Communications has been leveraging that framework in building their web theme and layout system.

What's Changing

Given the overhead of making another major change to all of our Drupal sites, and that what we already have works well and implements all of the required theming elements, we will not be changing to the official theme package. However, there is a lot to be gained from adopting the Layout Builder framework, and the College web developer has been working hard this year to embrace the new framework and get it to work with our existing theme implementation. In building our custom Layout Builder toolkit, he has been incorporating our existing content layout options while bringing in some new concepts that Institute Communications has designed for the campus. Thus, with this new toolkit, we'll have the best of both worlds.

Timeline and Actions

As of March 2020, any new Drupal websites needed within the College will be built using the Layout Builder toolkit. There are no plans to make any changes to our existing Drupal websites until the start of summer semester 2020. At that time, the new Layout Builder toolkit will be slowly rolled out, and will initially co-exist with the current Paragraphs toolkit. This will allow any pages built under the old system to be updated to the new system while the website stays live, avoiding a time consuming major upgrade process. Once all existing pages have been updated, the Paragraphs toolkit will be removed from the website. In the meantime, new pages can be created under the new Layout Builder toolkit just as soon as it has been installed on a site.

It's hard to say how long it will take to get every site fully upgraded – we have over forty Drupal 8 sites, and a few have a large number of pages built in the current page layout system. So, the current expectation is that the work will run into fall semester, but it will not be disruptive in any way: sites will not be down at any time to accommodate this work.


While the new Layout Builder system is fairly intuitive, it is a different interface compared to Paragraphs and most of you will likely want to partake of at least some basic training to get familiar with it. The College web developer will be preparing online training and reference materials and also offering several in-person training sessions for those who prefer that format for training.

There are some differences in how our Layout Builder system is implemented and how Institute Communications has implemented Layout Builder in their campus theme package, so it is recommended that you utilize the training resources that the College provides to avoid confusion. If you have questions about training options, feel free to reach out to the College web developer.

Additional Upcoming Changes

  • Around the beginning of summer there will be a minor theming update to all of our Georgia Tech themed sites to embrace a few theme changes that Institute Communications has made over the past year. This will be non-disruptive and will mostly affect just the Georgia Tech header/footer areas and the main menu bar. More details about these changes will be shared in April.

  • Drupal 9 is coming this summer, but it, too, will be a non-disruptive update. Unlike the upgrade to Drupal 8 that we went through a couple years ago, upgrading to Drupal 9 will not require any website rebuilding at all. Once the upgrade has been thoroughly tested, it will be deployed to our sites like the minor Drupal 8 upgrades that are deployed every three months.