Usability, usability, and usability

The Interaction Design and Information Architecture program at the University of Baltimore and a team of eight graduate students have completed a usability study on Drupal. The result is a great report (PDF) and an incredibly valuable video which they shared on drupal.org. It is too important not to share, so the video is also embedded below.

The results are consistent with the results from usability tests done at the University of Minnesota.

The results can't be ignored.

I printed the report, taped it on my wall, and I won't release Drupal 7 until I crossed of at least 90% of the problems they identified.

Comments

Pedro Pablo (not verified):

I have been working with drupal for about 6 months, so I still have fresh in my memory my first experiences with drupal. I am completely agree with the results shown in the video.
These issues should be solved, but care should be taken not to pay any cost in what drupal is.

July 3, 2008
Paul (not verified):

Drupal's great, no doubt about it. It's so powerful! But I've been using it for about 6 months too and completely agree that its usability is not as great as it should be. Without the Admin Menu (or DHTML menu) module I wouldn't have the patience to keep using it...

July 8, 2008
Bojhan Somers (not verified):

You can reserve that 10% for the issue regarding the mental model of the users about what an admin interface should look like, its unlikely we can get a good admin interface in before 7.0, if you take a look at wordpress they recently completely overhauled the admin interface, which kinda gives a sense on how hard it is. I still think the best way to tackle that problem, is to create a few modules that take different approaches to this, so that they can be tested.

Almost all issues identified have an issue or a post in g.d.o usability group, however some of them need further usability testing to see which method is the best one.

It would be interesting also to test with intermediate users of Drupal, since not only beginners struggle with Drupal.

July 3, 2008
Brad (not verified):

I feel like addressing the admin UI issue is pretty straightforward:

  1. Just take the existing ability to have an "admin" theme (/admin/settings/admin), enable it by default, and set it to some minor variant of the existing default theme -- maybe the same theme but with different colors and images.
  2. To help users see the difference, the install process should guide them towards choosing a theme BEFORE they start entering content, instead of after. People are simply accustomed to choosing their "template" before they create content.
  3. Change the default theme. Seriously, if people get confused by Garland's "weird triangle things" then let's not use have weird triangle things in our default theme. Something that looks even a little more like a contemporary website would help people make sense of things.
July 3, 2008
T.J. Cook (not verified):

As far as usability goes, Drupal can indeed take queues from more friendly designer influences. CiviCRM, for example, has an iconic interface--every important link such as Manage CiviCRM, Manage Groups, Custom Data, CiviCRM Profile--these have an accompanying image that imprint in the user's mind better than text alone. CiviCRM also has a long way to go, but Drupal is far behind making the admin interface as clean and friendly, if not moreso, than the front end themes.

This is the natural progression of such a project, of course, and I don't think we need to feel terrible about it, just empowered by it--programmers married to it have taken on the UI, and now we have to bring in those "outside the frame" of the painting to really make it stellar.

July 3, 2008
yaph (not verified):

Drupal's usability can definitely be improved but is it really a drawback that the administrative interface doesn't necessarily visually differ from the front-end in Drupal?
The people who participated in the study had experience with systems such as Joomla und Wordpress where back-end and front-end are completely separated. So they expect this to be some kind of standard that doesn't actually exist.
People I talked to who were also new to Drupal are very happy with Drupal’s lightweight admin interface, that is not stuffed with options and looks like their site.

July 3, 2008
Elvis (not verified):

Printed the report, taped it on my wall, and I won't release Drupal 7 until I crossed of at least 90% of the problems they identified.

Thank you Dries for getting serious about this! I look forward to blogging about your decision and holding you to your word :)

We little folks at the bottom can not push or make changes easily without someone at the top leading. I hope the core developers and the community gather around this very important decision you have made!

I look forward to a more friendlier "first time" experience in Drupal 7.

July 3, 2008
Dries:

Make sure to read Nick Lewis' suggestions. A lot of these can be turned into patches that I'd happily accept.

July 4, 2008
ben_ (not verified):

I can't emphasise enough, how much I support your "crossing of 90%" list. This is definitely the right thing to do.

July 4, 2008
eigentor (not verified):

Still under the influence of Steven Wittens last Blogpost... Having followed the Usability development in Drupal for about 3/4 of a year, and, admittedly, contributed by far too little myself, I believe the following:

Drupal definitely is much more a framework than a system at this very moment. This is great in it's own right. As such Usability is not important, since it is mostly used by very tech-savvy people that have the time to learn it. Once you are beyond this point, UX Improvements are not more than a nice-to-have.

But as there is no history in getting it closer to the everyday-user, I see quite a long way to go. There is not even a consensus in the community that this is a goal.

We are definitely lacking Manpower to really start. Automated Software Testing has been set up in comparatively no time and I'm quite confident it will work very soon.

User testing should be just as important, but you have to perform it, it is tedious work. Hopefully the Usability Testing Suite can help a bit. But I take my prognosis D7 might bring a big change - D8 might do.

As I said in the beginning - I write this under the influence of Stevens last post, so It sounds like a complain post, and it really is.

So how to change this:

  1. Get into action myself: take me by the word, I'll try to carry my load.
  2. Time will tell. It just is slower than I thought. This doesn't mean that nothing happens.
July 5, 2008
Martin (not verified):

I've only been using Drupal for about a month and it has been an interesting but also challenging experience, particularly at the beginning.

I was really pleased to see the video and report because it really shows very clearly what the barriers are to greater adoption of Drupal. The "out of the box" experience is very unintuitive and most users don't persevere with things that they find confusing or too difficult, instead they give up and try something else.

So I'm glad to hear that improving usability is going to be high on the priority list for future releases because I don't think its importance can be overestimated.

Usability issues aside, you'll be pleased to hear I have caught the Drupal bug! I'm planning to use it exclusively in the future and it looks like an exciting journey.

July 5, 2008
Rainer (not verified):

I do not really like that "plan-less user usability tests". Why should a user that can not differ between "story" and "page" administrate Drupal? And does it really matter, if "create content" is a fitting term?
Don't we customize that terms and types anyway?

So, what the study says is: "Someone who has no plan what he's doing can admin 90% of Drupal" - What's the sense in this?

It's a fine result without question - and yes, picking up the other 10% can be useful. But is Drupal like wordpress or phpBB?

No it's not. If you are clever, you can use Drupal to blog and forum because it's a framework not a system. You can build a community site with Drupal that's much more powerful and functional than with wordpress or phpBB.

And imho the price for more flexibility (complexity) is a more difficult administration. If you design a i.e. newsflash-site with Drupal yo will anyway provide a different admin interface and workflow for the different roles of the project members.

Imho, Drupal is terrible good because it's so flexible!

Instead of changing the overall admin interface, Drupal could provide simple "facades" for "the blog user" or the "forum user" as an install image.

In my mind Drupal always was a CMS framework not a CMS. Is there a community discussion about this?

July 7, 2008
catch (not verified):

Drupal already has install profiles, but they're under-used. As of this week, we have an 'experts' install profile (with no content types, only dblog module enabled etc.) and the 'default' install profile - which has a default tags vocabulary for articles, and will hopefully have some more very basic defaults to give examples to new users.

I don't think it's in anyone's interests to dumb-down Drupal, but many issues that are barriers to new users, are issues that seasoned developers have learned to work around after years of using the software. I type urls directly to get to admin/* screens instead of using the panel. Some people look in hook_menu to see where settings pages are configured when installing a new module - neither of these are good things, they're adaptations to cope with user interface issues which while not fatal, will improve things for everyone when fixed.

July 7, 2008
Roy (not verified):

We should try and find a good way to quickly introduce improvements and test them. I'm hoping we can put together something of a Usability Sprint at Drupalcon Szeged. Anybody interested in helping out should say so here: http://groups.drupal.org/node/12972

July 7, 2008
Marcin (not verified):

Concerning the back end front. I think you can improve this buy giving an option to view the page, and still be logged in buy pressing say a "view" button (e.g. top right corner) and then going into the edit mode if needed by pressing the same button, which will say "edit" at the time of being in view mode.

I have been using http://www.moonfruit.com/ online software, and thats how it is there.

It's actually pretty cool software, where you can edit content online. Pretty cool for an static site.

Best

July 8, 2008
freezotic van n... (not verified):

These people just haven't got a clue, same thing happened to me.

I'll be trying to get a clue the rest of the week, wish me good luck.

July 14, 2008
Jay Batson (not verified):

I'm just now reading about this. (Even though Dries and I work closely, there's just stuff we don't get time to talk about.)

I've long had the thought that Drupal's admin interface needs "layered." The initial pages a new site owner/admin has to create content, ..., should simply omit links to lots of the admin capability, and focus on the first few tasks they need to do. E.g. pick a theme. Understand what their site is doing. Create their first page, and see it in context. Etc.

As they gain understanding, more extensive choices should become available that allows them to become more facile.

Many people, over time, become proud of the fact that they really know how to use a particular bit of software. They don't mind learning it. But they need to learn it incrementally, and not have a huge mountain to climb when they first encounter it.

We'll be making investments in Drupal UI at Acquia. It's not my job (at the moment) to think about what they are. I can only say I - like Dries - feel we (the Drupal Community) need to make a TON of progress in this for Drupal to grow like it can / should.

July 15, 2008
Anonymous (not verified):

Been using Drupal for 3 weeks now.
Tried Joomla, SMF, PHPBB and others, over the summer. Drupal is fine. There needs to be a little clean out in the forums. There are people posting today in threads that were created in 2004, people are suggesting css script changes in the same thread for D4.x D5.x and D6.x.
It can make things a little confusing for a noob.

Dries keep up the good work.

September 24, 2008
K I T (not verified):

Usability ?

lol

i'm playing with Drupal more then a year now.
Let me start with saying why i ended up using it ?
Reason : first of all because its free.
second because i tried other free cms and Drupal to me felt as if i could work /use more easily.

However i found out that Drupal is very much focused on people who do know there stuff.

i know nothing about coding or programing or developing etc. i don't have the skills nor the knowledge.
there for i depend on people that provide and write prog / modules and share those (for free).
Like so many people ( who end up using free stuff )
i do not have the money to hire some one nor to get payed stuff.
I also believe in the fact that some stuff should be available to all no matter what. ( no elite not only for the rich etc.)

now some will say then don't run a site ?
It is that kind of : attitude that i do not like.
It's like saying : do not drive a car if you do not know how it tech works or if you cant repair it.

the net to me is about dreams , ideas, opportunities and chances.
for every one.
meaning for people who do not know or can not do as much to.
its what makes the net , the net.

if the usability of drupal would keep those people (like me )in mind to then it would be a big progress.

Drupal to me should be about caring and sharing.
thats what makes a community a real and great community.
inside the drupal community however i do see some big ego's
people who who not only think but also tread people like me as if we are less important.
if seen plenty of people ask reasonable questions etc. and been trashed for even daring to ask.
that can and has scared of some.

I love and hate drupal at the same time
i know how great it is, or can be
i am thankful it is here (for free )and here to stay !
(but it can also be a pain in the butt sometimes)

improving the : usability there for would be a major step.
----------------------------------------------------------
pffffffff sorry for rambling, again i am happy that i can use drupal and i thank every one who is or has been involved with it for making that happen !
Keep up the good work !

wishing you all nothing but the best

January 29, 2009
William Z (not verified):

Hi all!
First let me thank Dries and the Drupal team for the good work so far! Drupal has really made my life easier.

I'm a new Drupal user, starting with the 6.12 version, just 3 days ago. But full 3 days, 72hrs long hours. And I liked it very much. It really gives you a really great deal of flexibility and its very powerful, you can tweak every little part of the site! And since there are a lot of modules out there, its was really easy to try lots of them just for the sake of fun.

Wow, this post is now almost a year old, so im late with my comments. But lets write this, it may help everyone in the long run. I'm no newbie in administrating websites (although in other platforms, custom-myself-made, .Net, JSP and Joomla), but i also asked myself some of the questions in the video. Its was really hard to tell apart what the regular user see when you are creating content and what you as an superuser can see at the beginning of my Drupal experience.

I like the idea of a theme someone said in this comment thread. But not just a different theme, but to be able to see the site as different profiles (without having to logout and login as different users, a process although obvious for us, not always as easy to think for end users)

Let me walkthrough my mind here, just as i would wish drupal to be.

1. I install drupal, just as the 6.12 version. Easy as pie. (I would also love to be able to have this configuration in a module or page in the admin section).

2. After i configure the installation, a page where the following process is explained in steps and WHAT AND WHY IS THIS HELPFUL FOR THEIR SITES AND BUSINESS. This is what people want, not to create a site, but to be able to share ideas, info and reach more people, just as drupal mission says. Note: This page has to be visually appealing, since regular users never read "License-Information"-like pages. Click on Next.

3. After the Explanation page, as you already created a super-user, i would like to create a regular user. Ask for Username and password. Ok, entered. Next. Permissions for the regular user. Hmmm.
(For this it would be really useful to have the "permissions" of the unauthenticated user by the side of the regular user and be able to change their permissions right there in the install process as i explain).
Should i let the anonymous see comments? write a comment? write a blog? see blog?
Maybe see, and not write. Maybe say yes to both. But now that i know that i don't want the anonymous user to comment, i know i want the regular user do it. (elimination thinking process, i'm not making this up).
Let the regular user write a blog and create polls.
(Maybe even have the user create a moderator user here to and start assigning permissions as well)
Click on Next.

(By the way, I (just my thought, apart from the idea im trying to sell here) the permissions should be smarter... how can you create a comment and not see it? click on create and view checkbox also should automatically be checked. Or have the drupal come with prepackaged permissions, as it comes with prepackaged with non-core but essential modules and we all know what permissions we give them regularly, dont we?)

4. A page asking us to select the theme for the admin section and a different theme for the "regular-user" part. And let them preview them! Even if they are static pictures and not real previews!
And it should ask them for the site name. Just the name, the mission and stuff can be dealt later. This is for the next step.
THIS PAGE ALSO SHOULD BE AFTER THE PERMISSIONS ONE, people always take more time thinking: "mmm my site is about dogs, should it be brown? or white? i like that one better because of the blue bar..." than "i dont want anonymous people to enter bad comments in my site". The regular people is the one we are tackling here and in the video. We want them to come and use Drupal. Techy guys can handle Drupal complexity now, if they were the only ones using Drupal, there would be no changes at all.

5. Finally! We finished the whole "installation" process. User should be taken to the regular user site, not the admin one. There should be an example frontpage, not like the one in the 6.12 distribution (giving instructions for admin), but having dummy Lorem Ipsum content as a paragraph, a video, blog post and a block stating the recent posts (and it would logically be only this one). There would also be the login block. And it should clearly state here the site name.
In this example frontpage, in the login part or else, there should be a BUTTON (tab like or else, like the primary links ones) stating Administer this site or Enter as administrator, not a menu link as v6.12.

This button would effectively login the user and open the admin "site" in a NEW window, giving the illusion of different sites. The admin "site" should clearly state "CHOSENSITENAME Administration". The example frontpage should now state that the user has been logged in a different window, for distracted-prone users.

6. State clearly in the admin site frontpage, the "best" steps/instructions to complete the initial administrative process. By this i mean what we all do the first time we enter the administration section: see the content types, privileges, modules, contact forms, url aliases, etc. Whenever you make a change in an admin section, THERE SHOULD be a link to the regular user site (the example frontpage explained in the second paragraph of step 5) for the user to see how the changes affected the front end site. It would be ideally useful to have several links like "See the changes as regular user" and "See the changes as moderator" for the configuration pages that makes sense. You could also even NOT ask for the regular/moderator password, since you are logged as a superuser, but that's just my wishful thinking. (As a bonus, as you already have opened the admin site in a new window and javascript "knows" the previous window as a parent, you could reload/redirect that window to see the changes i mention).

This should address the issues stated in the video. Oh, and last but not least, please just rephrase the content types help outlines, as in the video. I CAN understand them, but also reading them closely. The description is too large too. Rewrite, and put some examples, pictures or flash content so the people can visually know what they are clicking to. A picture is worth a thousand words you know?

As a bonus, i know currently there is no theme-creator module. I'm not referring to the images and graphical stuff, but to the content-top, content-bottom, footer-top, sidebars areas. If a default (out-of-the-box) module could show an specific background and let the user decide which areas he want to make "customizable" areas (block-filling-able, haha) it would really increase the popularity of drupal. (number of users willing to change to/begin with drupal)

Please dont get me wrong, i'm not trying to diminish the great work Dries and several other people have already done with Drupal. Its the best tool i ever seen, easy and powerful. Sorry if i used other peoples ideas here, I just wanted to share my little grain of sand by compiling all these together. Acknowledges to everyone in this thread. Hope this help to see a great Drupal v7! :D

See ya!

June 13, 2009
Taco (not verified):

I had to laugh out loud since it was like watching myself starting out with Drupal again (over 1 year ago). I agree with the usability issues of Drupal on many levels shown in the research video. For example I always remove the 'story' content type for my clients, it makes no sense. And why are some site configurations in your theme and others in ehhh.. well, site configuration. Ever spend half an hour searching to remove the 'submitted by' text? (it's in you theme config ;)

Besides the core modules of Drupal many well written modules do also not have good documentation. Writing extended documentation for a module should definitely be encouraged. Maybe through the certification program.. Look for example at the Lightbox 2 docus. Good!

One thing I do not agree and would like to enfeces, is that I do not like the other CMS systems that have different admin 'themes' as what anonymous users would see. This is a good thing, please do not change it. Make the Admin menu core and it is very clear when you are in the admin part and when not. I always use 2 browsers to get the user experience, viewing as a normal user should probably be more easy.

Research like this is good, but the Drupal community is up the task of making Drupal friendlier to new and less experienced users. Lets start by writing good documentation in a wiki form!

August 17, 2009
Dan Silver (not verified):

Thank you so much for your work on Drupal 7. I agree with you 100% that it will be a killer release. I just installed it for the first time and it looks amazing.
Now, im just waiting for the beta!
Any eta?
Great Work Dries and the Drupal community!
-Dan Silver

September 4, 2009
donquixote (not verified):

Solution:
- in the install process, propose the creation of example content (2 pages, 2 stories).
- admin_menu in core. This is important to give an overview of the possibilities the fresh Drupal install gives you.
- By default, create a menu called "Site Navigation", that contains a link to the home page and to example pages created in the install process, and to your user profile, but NOT any admin links. This menu can be placed in a top region of the default theme.
- Disable the block for system navigation, or rename it to something like "admin links". That's a hint that these links will only be visible to the admin or privileged users.

The "Site Navigation" should represent the public site, whereas the "Admin links" represent administrative tasks.

This way, we can separate admin stuff from public stuff, without having to introduce a separate admin theme.

Separate admin theme?
I am all against that.
Think of wikipedia: You can edit the pages without going to an admin area. You have edit links on all the content. And this is great!
Drupal allows a fluid transition from viewing to editing to administration, similar to wikipedia. If the person setting up the site does a good job, occasional content editors will have a very easy life. They don't need to learn a backend, and they don't need to remember an admin login (assuming they already have a frontend login).

September 25, 2009

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