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Experience Design is the Future of Drupal: Reflecting on the 2016 NOLA Driesnote

Drupal has long been a powerhouse. A behemoth, less concerned with its usability and more concerned with its strength and sustainability. So what does Dries mean now by "experience" exactly?

Finally. I’ve only been working in Drupal for about 3 years now, but from the beginning, the editing experience—sometimes referred to by others, including us, as the authoring experience—has always been a struggle.

A real one. I have watched many non-technical people shy away from their shiny new Drupal sites because no matter how much training they receive, the experience has been overwhelming, intimidating, and dispiriting. It’s a tough-love kind of thing to say—I love Drupal, and more importantly, it’s community. But we haven’t been the only ones saying it. Not by far.

And now the winds of change are blowing hard. Drupal 8 is alive and breathing. People are beginning to implement it, upgrade, and adapt. It’s not perfect yet, but it’s drastically improving. This year at DrupalCon in New Orleans, Dries kicked us off with a whole lot of inspiration. He’s quite good at that. His inspiration, his excitement, was rooted in something very specific: experience.

Drupal’s Future is 3-Wheeled

Drupal has long been a powerhouse. A behemoth, less concerned with its usability and more concerned with its strength and sustainability. So what does Dries mean now by “experience” exactly? 

It’s a 3-wheeled racer. Some wheels are bigger than others. And in this post, I’d like to focus on two of those wheels: the content-centric ones (side note: the wheel I’m not talking about here is Developer Experience—I expect one of my more developer-y colleagues will cover that very soon.)

Editorial Experience

The first wheel represents a strict focus on Editorial Experience (EX). Not too long ago, I gave a talk at the Pacific Northwest Drupal Summit on EX—though we called it “authoring experience”—that explored best practices around the topic and provided ways Drupal could do this better. All Drupal users should be thrilled that this is now a strategic focus for the Drupal community.

Is this just lip service though? It’s not looking like it. In fact, when the Drupal Association surveyed the community, they found that a whopping 46% of respondents replied that Content Authors should be the primary focus while making decisions. The next answer down was Site Builders at 29%. That’s a big deal.

Among the goals going forward are:

  • Contextual editing. In other words, adding or changing content right on the page where it lives.
  • Better media integration. Because, well, that’s a huge pain right now.
  • Better workflow solutions. This is huge. The success of a website depends heavily on smart and well implemented editorial workflows.
  • Better WYSIWYG integration.
  • So much more.

This is all a little blue-sky right now. We’re not there yet, but that’s where we’re headed. As larger brands adopt Drupal to harness its power—Tesla powers their app with Drupal 8!—everything depends on making those editors, the people really using it, happy and empowered.

Customer Experience

This is sort of the same as User Experience, a term that many of us are familiar with. However, a key difference is clear: a Customer Experience is the experience of a user across an entire ecosystem. It’s their experience at every touch point.

In the Driesnote, he focused pretty heavily on the connected life, the Internet of Things. Examples included the likes of Nike, Amazon, and Apple because of their ability to relate devices to one another, enabling communication across channels. No longer can we just design for a single point-of-contact. It’s where marketing and user experience merge together, become one.

So what does this mean? Well, this is certainly further on the horizon, but it’s building the foundations by considering:

  • Better structured content
  • Cross-channel publishing
  • If this, then that-style publishing triggers

This is huge. This means we, as Drupal folks, can now begin thinking more easily beyond the page—we’re thinking now as an ecosystem. How to reach our audiences at the right time, with the right messages. And while it might not be right around the corner, this is evidence that Dries and the Drupal Association are thinking strategically about Drupal as a communications tool, one for everyone, one that empowers all its users and audiences.

The Unsaid “C” Phrase

“Content Strategy” is a… tricky term. It’s a painfully-protean thing and means something different to everyone—even to self-identified content strategists. How frustrating.

So imagine my relief when it wasn’t mentioned at all during this Driesnote. Yes, content is the meat and potatoes of Drupal—it’s a CMS after all. And yes, we need to think strategically about its creation, governance, and distribution. But thinking about it as only a “content” strategy is a mistake.

With the focus now on experience over simply content, Drupal is positioning itself as strategic and holistic. There are some exciting times ahead. And they’re not that far off. We should be excited. Because in this future, everyone wins, not just developers. Watch the full Driesnote below.