Five User Experience Initiatives for Drupal 8 (A Drupalcon Debrief)

I had the pleasure of spending last week in Chicago at Drupalcon. I was there to run a workshop and do a talk but, to be honest, I was also mostly there to decide whether it was time to break up with Drupal for good.

My relationship with Drupal is now heading towards the 3 year mark. The number of hours that I’ve contributed (unpaid, in addition to those I’ve been fortunate to be paid to contribute) are really starting to rack up. I was starting to question whether those hours were well invested and whether it was wise to invest any more. Whether in fact it was possible that my contributions might actually constructively lead toward significant improvement or whether, after all, trying to do good UX in open source is really just thrashing.

Well. We didn’t break up. It’s not all roses, but there’s hope.

The first sign of hope came in Dries‘ keynote where he identified not just usability but delightful experience as a goal for Drupal8. Frankly, I’ll be beyond surprised if Drupal8 gets anywhere close to ‘delightful’ by the release of version 8 but as long as we’re tracking in that direction, I’m pleased.

The second sign also came from Dries’ keynote where he started talking of initiatives and distributing leadership throughout the community. I think this a great idea and gives not only UX but other disciplines the opportunity to really stand up and take a key role in the community. I noticed, however, that Dries didn’t mention any specific UX initiatives, so I thought I’d share five that I think Drupal should embrace in the coming months and years.

1. increase the overall UX/Design competency within the Drupal community – help developers (who always make loads of design decisions, in Drupal-land and beyond) make good design decisions.

What does this involve?

- Making and publicising a good pattern library so that developers contributing user facing code can help us maintain consistency and enhance usability.

- Continuing to make the case for good usability through sharing ongoing usability testing and showing how, where and why users struggle to complete tasks

- Increasing the size of the usability team in the Drupal community – here we need to focus on lowering our pretty atrocious attrition rate – keeping the good people we attract rather than just attracting more people only to see them give up and leave, exasperated, in short order.

- Creating an environment that supports and encourages good design practice. More on this below.

2. Incrementally improve known usability problems from Drupal 7 in Drupal 8. Refocus on the Site Builder persona.

There are lots of known usability problems remaining in Drupal7 that it would be great to see nailed in Drupal8. In particular, a lot of the site building tools were not given as much attention as they deserve because of Drupal7′s focus on Content Creator.

At the Usability BoF in Chicago the team discussed refocussing Drupal8′s UX goals on the tasks of the Site Builder and therefore on improving the interfaces that are encountered during the core site building tasks. Regular usability testing on these tasks will also be undertaken during this cycle.

3. Improve Drupal’s ‘Out of the Box’ experience

The learning curve of death cannot continue. We can’t expect newcomers to sign over their first born child before we let them set up a simple website. We need to give them something quickly. Enter the Snowman (nee Tsunami) (see also @eaton’s initial proposal for this project).

4. Improve the experience for Content Creators

Refocussing the UX efforts for Drupal8 on the site builder leaves our Content Creators in an awkward, somewhat unloved position. The challenge remains to find a way to enable the people who run our Drupal websites day to day (and the people who can be incredibly influential in deciding whether or not Drupal is the chosen infrastructure or not) to have a good user experience.

There are several efforts in progress addressing this challenge including Project Verity (the not-drowning-tho’-equally-not-quite-waving project that I’ve been working on with the team at Mark Boulton Design), Workbench (recently released by the guys at Palantir) and no doubt many others that I’m not aware of (yet!)

It seems at this point that the fate of the content creator is in the hands of contrib not core. If you’re looking for an opportunity to really contribute to the future growth of Drupal consider this a worthy cause.

5. Make Drupal.org a better environment for creating good user experience

Nobody I’ve ever met who works on the Drupal project actively wants to create a crappy UX, but our tools don’t necessarily make it particularly easy for us to do so. Drupal.org needs better collaboration tools that encourage us to follow good process (eg. to explore the problem space and possible ideas before we start coding the first one we think of), to get the right people in the room for discussions at the right time (smart but not annoying notifications), to help drive productive, efficient, consensus focussed discussions, and to help ensure we’re all pulling together, not frittering our energy away on related projects that don’t know about each other.

This is the goal of the initiative that Randy Fay & I kicked off in our Core Conversation at Drupalcon, it’s called the Prairie Initiative (also see Randy’s and my slides on this topic aka ‘Redesigning The Issue Queue’ ).

This is where I want to spend the bulk of my ‘Drupally’ time over the coming months (albeit only a few hours a week – I’ve got work, kids, side projects, a mortgage to pay – don’t we all).  I’ve got some unfinished business on the Drupal.org redesign project anyways, the issue queue is my itch to scratch (I’ve moaned about it enough) and getting this right (or at least, a little righter) seems like a fascinating and challenging project to me. Also, I get to work with some of the Drupal community’s finest. Expect to hear more on this in the coming months.

There they are – the five UX initiatives I’d like to see for Drupal 8. I’m not sure how things become official initiatives in our new Drupal 8 landscape but I imagine that if a whole bunch of us keep saying it over and over, form into working groups and start getting exciting stuff done, that’s got to be a good start. If a delightful experience is really what we want to achieve then, IMHO, this is how we get started.

Onwards.