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Improving the Administrative User Experience in Drupal

For all of the features and praise we offer Drupal, including the system’s flexibility to become whatever it needs to be, one of the most prominent complaints against it in recent years is that its editorial experience can be painful for administrators. Over the last decade, the concept of User Experience (UX) has grown across the web from a vague idea to ease the life of site visitors, to an entire field of study and focus in modern web development. Modern websites at any level must consider and prioritize UX because of the impact it has on site usage, success, and overall organizational perception. Formalized attention to the UX for site visitors within the site’s target market is increasingly common, ranging from passive awareness to dedicated resources creating this experience from concept through to implementation. While this work focuses on the end-user, the administrative user experience (Admin UX) of the applications themselves can be left as an afterthought because they are not the target audience. Their experience is most often reduced to a byproduct of the curated front-end UX.

Administrators: The forgotten audience

For this conversation, it is important to clearly identify the audience being underserved. In the context of the Admin UX for Drupal, or any CMS for that matter, this audience includes some blend of the following roles (or more):
  • Site administrators. Users who maintain the application settings and/or functionality of the site.
  • Content authors. Users who create and edit the content housed within the system and then publish to end-users.
  • Content editors. Users who are involved in any form of review or approval process as it relates to web content.
  • Section managers. Users who may be responsible for the management of a specific section or piece of functionality within a site.
Over the life of a given site, most of these users will spend a significant amount of time on it. In terms of creating and managing powerful and efficient web platforms, this audience is an important one to consider when developing a practical Admin UX of an application.

The benefits of successful Admin UX

When an application has a strong Admin UX built-in, the tasks a user needs to complete are much more intuitive and can be completed much more confidently without unexpected issues or assistance needed. This translates to numerous benefits over the life of an application including:
  • Less time required to train new users
  • Fewer unexpected issues caused by user error
  • Lower required investment to maintain stand-alone documentation
  • Increased ability to handle updates within the editorial team without support
  • Reduced update delays blocked by support requests
  • Improved team satisfaction with the application
So why hasn’t an intuitive and helpful administrative experience been a priority for your Drupal site? 

The future: Taking care of administrators

On the horizon, there are a lot of exciting improvements coming to Drupal that will continue to improve the Admin UX for Drupal sites out of the box. During the lifespan of Drupal 8, we’ve already seen key improvements in this area as more and more features have been incorporated into Drupal core. These include:
  • 8.1: Spellchecking in WYSIWYG editors
  • 8.2: Interface text and consistency improvements
  • 8.3: Updated WYSIWYG editor version with improved support for image management
  • 8.4: Stable release of core features for moderation and workflows, date range inputs, and inline form errors
  • 8.5: Stable release of core media management
  • 8.6: Improved support for media and remote video embedding
  • 8.7: Stable release of layout builder in core
In the near future, there are even more improvements to look forward to as well. Reviewing the Drupal core feature roadmap highlights even more improvements coming down the pipeline including:

What you can do already

While it’s exciting to see all of the new changes ahead to improve the Admin UX within Drupal by default, that doesn’t mean sites that already exist, or are in the process of being built, can’t have a great Admin UX built into them now! For a quick overview, you can check out my most recent presentation on the topic at BADCamp 2019. In that presentation, I cover a number of practices and modules to be used right now to improve and build better Admin UX interfaces.  In my next post, I’ll explore the road that can, unfortunately, lead to a poor or neglected Admin UX, in order to better understand the most common pitfalls leading there. For now, pay attention to the interfaces on the various applications you use, and take note of things that don’t seem obvious or may be hard to figure out. Observing these types of experiences first-hand is the best step toward recognizing, fixing, and preventing them in your own applications.  

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