Why Drupal needs a Design Community Manager

I’ve been working with the Drupal community on design projects for coming up to 12 months now – a splash in the ocean compared to many in the Drupal community but long enough to get a feel for how things work.

The ‘paid’ time I have left on the d7ux project is almost run out and I’m left feeling frustrated – not just by the work that I’d like to be able to continue to do on the Drupal 7 User Experience, but also by the great potential for building a critical mass of great designers and UX people in the Drupal community and the different types of activities that could spur this on, and the impact this could have on Drupal adoption and sustainability as an Open Source software project. So much opportunity, so little resource.

Despite the fact that I think there are probably a contingent within the Drupal community who are hoping that Mark & I are just going to go away once we stop getting paid for d7ux, the fact is that this is unlikely to happen any time soon. For various reasons and in various ways, I think we’re both kind of hooked on Drupal, or at least it’s amazing community.

Having said that, I know for myself it will be difficult to carve out any significant amount of time from the paid project work I’ll move onto and the demands joy of a family with a young child – I have long since given up on a social life!

At best, I hope to commit to spending a hour a day (or 5 hours a week) on Drupal post the official d7ux project. This is *far* less than others commit for ‘free’ each week but much more than many are able to consider committing.

(Having said that, have you seen that Matt Webb video I posted just before this post? What are you doing with your 100hrs?)

Here’s the thing… I really want to make those 5hrs a week count. At the moment, the logical place to spend those hours is bickering in the issue queue. Whilst some time does definitely need to be spent there, I think for the Design & UX community to spend too great a proportion of their time battling out grassfire by grassfire is not productive use of our time… but what can we do with just 5hrs?

I think the answer lies in crowdsourcing our time around big projects. Creating and managing projects that lots and lots of people can contribute an hour here and there to, and yet great and coherent value is created. I have some thoughts what kind of projects these might be:

  • creating/maintaining/applying an design pattern library
  • consulting with developers who are in the early stages of developing a module that has UI elements and providing them with assistance *before* they code a UI
  • concentrated work on known difficult interfaces that should be easier. (edited to delete unnecessary snarky remark at a specific module)
  • more microprojects!but my absolute favourite pet project is:
  • crowdsourced usability testing video library: create a library of video snippets of usability testing conducted by people around the world and tagged so that they can be used as a datasource to support design decision making AND to be pulled out over and over and over again to help maintain awareness of people-who-use-Drupal-who-are-not-us

Each of these projects (and I bet there are dozens more just as good or better!) provide:

  • ways for designers and UX people to contribute in a rewarding way to the Drupal community (contributing to the issue queue is v important yes, but can at times be incredibly frustrating and demoralising)
  • opportunities for new people to contribute to the community from their first interaction (rather than being smacked on the nose, told that everything has already been thought of and given a list of issues to read before proceeding),

Growing a vibrant design & UX community within the Drupal community in the long term and allowing Drupal to benefit from that (beyond finally starting to see some gorgeous looking sites that are Drupal-powered) is going to require some nuturing and creativity.

It needs someone to create and faciliate these ‘crowdsourced’ efforts and to promote them with in the Drupal community and within the broader Design/UX community.

But there is one big problem – in order to provide the framework for hundreds of people to start contributing their 5hrs a week, you need someone setting up and managing said framework. I think that this role is a Design Community Manager, I think it needs to be a paid role, and I think it should probably be about 2 days/wk.

So the three questions are:

  • this is something pretty different for the Drupal community… is this something we’re willing to try?
  • who’s going to sponsor this initiative, as in, put up the cash (and no doubt win the love and respect of both the Drupal and Design communities)
  • who is the guy/gal for the job (but let’s answer the first two before we get into this. Be assured there are some great candidates)

60 Responses to “Why Drupal needs a Design Community Manager”

  1. Joe July 3, 2009 at 8:59 pm #

    Amen. There’s a huge need for coordinated design and user experience improvements in Drupal. I don’t have the resources to make a substantial financial contribution, but I’d love to make a donation to the Drupal association and have it earmarked for ux and design work.

  2. Dries July 3, 2009 at 9:15 pm #

    Thanks for all the work you did, and happy to read you’ll try to commit up to 5 hours a week to help. That’s awesome! :)

    Technically, the Drupal community could benefit from many paid functions — from release engineers, to operations people, to security experts, to marketing, to designers, to developers, etc. I can provide you a list of 30 roles we could easily fill with paid positions. However, what we’ve learned the last 9 years, is that it doesn’t take paid people to be successful. It takes raw passion. That is how Open Source works.

    I’ll give the idea of appointing a Design Community Manager some thought, but one will have to emerge from the pool of volunteers. If we continue to promote usability, like many of us have been doing for 4-5 years now, we’ll continue to build a pool of talented UX/design people that self-organize around topics. It takes a while but it will work.

    • leisa.reichelt July 4, 2009 at 2:06 pm #

      i totally agree that this person should emerge from the community and that it is much more about passion than salary (it’s more about enabling that passion even more in my opinion).

      what I’m less sure about is whether continuing to promote usability and having people self-organise around topics is going to be enough… to create a good environment for system wide design, and a culture that supports good design, not just usability fire fighting… that is why I am thinking that at least in the short term some extra resource for coordinating efforts to enable this would be incredibly valuable.

      understand it is one of many things you need to think about re: the future of Drupal, obviously it’s something I think is v important :)

    • Claudio Luís Vera July 4, 2009 at 7:32 pm #

      Dries, I think you’ve just raised the barriers to having good design in Drupal. Many of us in the community are feeling the lack of dedicated support for design. There’s only so much that designers in a down economy can do out of passion.

      I had a conversation with another lead designer at Drupalcon DC about the difference between focusing your energies on fixing Drupal, versus fixing other larger social issues. It’s a no-brainer, especially if participation is difficult or confusing.

      I’m on the board of a non-profit that does habitat restoration, I’m working on a project that will determine the future of journalism, and I’m active in healthcare reform. Why would I want to spend my time getting mired in slow and painful arguments in the issue queue?

      That’s not an issue of passion, that’s an issue of how my time as a designer and agent of change is best spent.

      Dries, no one in the Drupal community can do more than you to advance design and UX. You set the tone for the rest of the community for how much support and appreciation design and usability should have — and for how that collaboration should happen.

      Please don’t turn your back on the little progress we’ve made with design and UX at such a crucial point for the community.

  3. Maarten Verbaarschot July 3, 2009 at 9:16 pm #

    Great initiative, definitely.

    I’m wondering if there’s a similar initiative for the developers in the Drupal community at the moment? If not, should there be as well? It could tie the design and development issues/activities together.

    Don’t have a clue about the sponsoring though. Perhaps some Drupal shops, since they eventually profit from all of this. But it’s completely up to them to step forward of course. So spread the word I guess :)

    My vote would totally go to kika btw :D he’d be perfect for this!

  4. winston July 3, 2009 at 9:20 pm #

    “…concentrated work on known difficult interfaces that should be easier. (ahem… views… ahem)…”

    Are we seriously going to start this conversation with Views? Views is an incredibly powerful query builder that took 3 years to get to its current incarnation. If the UI of Views is such a “known difficult” interface then why is it the most popular contrib project out there? Surely the “known difficult” UI would have kept people from it yes?

    Is it worth pointing out that since Views does such an excellent job of capturing all its functionality in an API with an exportable format, there is nothing stopping anyone with the programming chops from coming up with an alternate UI?

    • leisa.reichelt July 4, 2009 at 2:12 pm #

      i agree, i should never have mentioned any specific module in this post, it was always going to drag the discussion off topic, as it has indeed done, and to single out Views is unfair given that a lot of usability and design effort has already gone into it.

      I’ve edited the post to remove the mention.

      • mcaudy July 5, 2009 at 9:01 pm #

        Hi Leisa,

        I think it was wise to remove the reference to Views.

        Have you seen Jeff Eaton’s SimpleViews module, that puts a simplified UI on top of the regular Views API? It is really interesting, and shows how complex things in Drupal can be simplified, while still maintaining the full power (and complexity) of Drupal functionality, such as View.

        http://drupal.org/project/simpleviews

        Be sure to see Eaton’s video demo of SimpleViews, which is here:

        http://www.lullabot.com/blog/simpleviews-demo

  5. Bojhan Somers July 3, 2009 at 9:41 pm #

    I would say, become part of the UX team. Most of the topics you addressed we are trying to work on, but as we are with only about three/four people who can actually allocate time we are always struggling to keep up with the current activities.

    For example, this year we organized two sprints – which as you can assume took at least 20/30hours per organizer. The other two points, pattren libary, consulting is something we are already working on (yoroy, did a lot of work on the Views interface). But as you might have seen we put most of our effort in supporting the current D7UX work because thats where the priority was, but otherwise we would have initiated work on certain interfaces and initiatives.

    A Design Community leader could definitely help, but as Dries portrait thats not common in the Drupal Community. There are a couple companies, and mostly freelancers who put an awful lot of free time in the project – which is always, as time allows. Which seems to be working out for incremental improvements, we just don’t have design companies within the community yet which have the leverage contribution and community wise to put forward someone.

    So I’d say join us building drupalusability.org – and a company will surely step up to sponsor if you are doing awesome work.

    • leisa.reichelt July 4, 2009 at 2:26 pm #

      gosh Bojhan, here I was thinking I *was* a part of the UX team… what more do I have to do!

      I think that much of what you’re saying completely supports my point – there is a lot to do and not enough people. The whole idea of the Design Community Manager is that they can help create ways that more people can contribute to more easily – there is no way that very many people can dedicate the number of hours that people like yourself and Roy do, but that shouldn’t mean that we don’t get any hours from them at all! At the moment, making a commitment to the UX Group requires putting in some serious hours, and I think there is a lot of ‘potential contribution’ leaking as a result of that.

      (I’m sure the same is true for developers, but I’m no expert in their community so don’t feel qualified to comment or make recommendations).

      • Bojhan Somers July 4, 2009 at 6:09 pm #

        Well, yes you are – but I think we all just got hold on getting the D7UX stuff done – to truly form a team that attacks issues you address. Because most of the things you addressed we already have ideas about and spoken about for a year, but just haven’t gotten around to truly sit down and form an action plan.

        You’re absolutely right, that there is a difference in facilitating the people who have a couple hours and accommodating those who put in a lot of hours. The community has never been very good at managing that difference.

        I think part of the toughness is also, the greater understanding of drupal’s ux that we have failed to communicate well. I’d like to agree with Jared Spool here, that creating an understanding of the application it’s problems is far harder then coming up with recommendations. And although UX people usually grasp that, developers are currently only asking for the latter.

        So lets see how much understanding we can put out, and from that derive better focus for those who can only spend 4/5 hours a week on this. It’s a slow process, but since 2008 I think we have had far more people already on the UX part.

      • Voxon July 5, 2009 at 5:29 am #

        “what more do I have to do!”

        Sometimes doing less is doing more. So do not worry.

  6. mdekkers July 3, 2009 at 9:50 pm #

    @winston. Why not? is it not allowed to have a conversation about views? views is one of my favorite modules, but I think the UI is overly complicated, and releasing any kind of complex view-with-filter capability leaves my end users bewildered, and requires a lot of training. It delivers great functionality, and it is an awesome module, but the UI really does need work.

    I don’t believe any module is “above discussion” on any topic. Moreover, your argument seems to boil down to “it is very popular, so there cannot be anything wrong with the UI”, which, obviously, does not make sense.

    • winston July 3, 2009 at 10:12 pm #

      @mdekkers. I was not saying you shouldn’t have a conversation about views. I just find a proposal for a design community manager an odd place to point to one specific contrib module as a problem.

      The first and I think primary statement in my post was “Are we seriously going to start this conversation with Views?” and I will leave it at that.

  7. Larry Garfield July 3, 2009 at 10:48 pm #

    Leisa, I am not at all surprised that you’ve caught the Drupal bug, and I for one and thrilled to see it. :-)

    What you point to is the larger issue that Drupal abhors formality, which makes it actually quite difficult for many people to become champions of a given effort. Those that do don’t know if what they’re championing is even desirable or worthwhile. Others never step up because they lack any formal authority to champion it, therefore they don’t do so. This is a problem.

    While in some cases that works out anyway, it doesn’t always. Crowdsourcing still needs a cat herder. I do agree that if we want usability and design to be a first-class effort concept Drupaldom, alongside Security which good techno-geeks embrace anyway and understand more easily, we need some sort of formal champion. Whether paid or unpaid, there needs to be an explicit go-to person for design and usability with the authority to decide in what direction to herd the Drupal felines.

    I could see that being like the head of the security team, or like the branch release manager (webchick, Gabor, drumm, etc.). I’m flexible there, but a more formal and recognized UX/Design team, like the Security team, is very important.

    As to Views, well… until the D7UX effort the Views module had probably the most thought, effort, and design put into its UI of any Drupal module or core system, ever. There were design mockups, wireframes, endless iterations, all done by a very small handful of people because no one else stepped up to help despite many requests. So the steady stream of “The Views UI sucks, why can’t we make it better” comments over the past year has been met, quite justifiably IMO, with “well where the hell were you a year ago when we asked for help? Come back when you have a real suggestion backed up by data.” So far no one has.

    So yeah, if we want to start with Views, great. Let’s first realize that it’s the most developed part of Drupal with regards to actual thought put into usability, and then work from there. There’s certainly room for improvement (mostly in documenting how it works for new users, IMO, because for advanced users it’s actually pretty darned good), but keep it constructive.

    • leisa.reichelt July 4, 2009 at 2:25 pm #

      thanks for your thoughtful response Larry – I agree there is an interesting parallel between Security and Design/UX, and perhaps ‘design cat herder’ is a good way of avoiding the ‘manager’ word!

      see my note above re: views (and acknowledgement that I really shouldn’t have called it out).

      It was front of mind because I’d seen it presentd recently as an example of an interface that was ‘usable’ for newcomers to Drupal which I find incredibly difficult to believe. I’m sorry I wasn’t around 12 months ago when there was a cry for help, but I’d be more than happy to put my money, well time, where my mouth is and help work on an improved UI if Merlin ever talks to me again!

      • Bojhan Somers July 4, 2009 at 2:28 pm #

        Not sure if that was me. But I didn’t mean its “usable” for newcommers.

      • leisa.reichelt July 4, 2009 at 3:03 pm #

        Yes, I was thinking of your presentation at WebJam.
        I thought you said that a ‘Jeremy’ (ref: who is d7ux for) would be able to use the views interface. Jeremy is a newcomer, but more web/tech savvy than Verity with more sophisticted demands.

        If this is not what you said then, my bad.

        I definitely think that Jeremy *should* be able to use the views interface, but I don’t think he’d have much luck with it at the minute.

      • Bojhan Somers July 4, 2009 at 6:22 pm #

        From all the users I observed (considering many of them to be Jeremy’s), it takes quite some effort to learn the initial twirks of the Views UI (A technology investment those people where willing to make), but once past those initial twirks they are very comfortable with the basic Views UI functionality (which I tried to point out at DrupalJam).

        What I think you are meaning is that the technology investment that Jeremy is willing to make is vastly lowering, in which I agree.

        So the frequent tasks of Views are actually not too bad in terms of usability. But because of the nature of the task, you will always be stepping into a infrequent functionality and that is where Views fails to give system guidance. So the problem space as merlinofchaos also explained is far more complex then saying “Jeremy can or cannot use it” because that depends highly on the complexity of view he is building.

  8. Laura July 4, 2009 at 12:06 am #

    I tweeted a reply because comments were closed. Now I see that comments are open, but others have said what I would have said, but with greater clarity, so I’ll just add that there are many of us who wish we could spend more time just on Drupal. This eludes most all of us.

    But you and Mark have helped focus a small, but I believe critical, mass of designers and developers on improving Drupal usability across the board. You’ve brought a lot of energy, insight and creativity to the challenges, and helped many Drupal people understand and use a new vocabulary for understanding interactive design and development. Nobody can take that away!

    So I hope you stick around, and don’t let the naysayers get you down. My business partner, Kate, tells me of a Russian saying: “Throw a rock into a pack of wolves. The one that yelps is the one you hit.” :)

    [Please forgive me if this ends up being a double-post. I submitted the comment earlier but nothing happened. Hoping it's just gone into moderation.]

    • leisa.reichelt July 4, 2009 at 2:28 pm #

      thanks Laura, that saying is going onto the wall in front of my desk. I love it :)

  9. Momendo July 4, 2009 at 1:14 am #

    So the steady stream of “The Views UI sucks, why can’t we make it better” comments over the past year has been met, quite justifiably IMO, with “well where the hell were you a year ago when we asked for help? Come back when you have a real suggestion backed up by data.” So far no one has.

    Amen to that comment. Miles has expressed frustration on his blog about people throwing cheap shots at views. Views2 is very complex and considering the improvement over views1, it is much improved in UI and functionality. We have to take an iterative approach to improve the ui. Views2 is good but by no means perfect and could use some ui and documentation improvements. That said for all those who throw stones at views, where are you in the issue queue, mockups and code patches? Join the views group at g.d.o and start a dialog.

    • leisa.reichelt July 4, 2009 at 2:31 pm #

      couldn’t agree more, as noted above, I’d happily spend my 5hrs a week working with Miles and others on a Views UX Project he’s up for it. Also agree tht this was not the time or the place for a potshot at Views.

  10. Momendo July 4, 2009 at 1:17 am #

    Ps. I nominate yoroy for design czar/cat herder. =)

  11. joshmiller July 4, 2009 at 2:49 am #

    Glad to see you have caught the bug despite the flame wars your very direct words seem to incite. Hopefully you will be able to use Drupal with some of your clients and that will lend more than 5 hours/week. I find I spend at least 5 hours/week just reading about Drupal. So good luck on getting things done ;-)

    Josh

    • leisa.reichelt July 4, 2009 at 3:01 pm #

      Josh – I hope so too – stay tuned!
      and thank you :)

  12. venkat-rk July 4, 2009 at 3:12 am #

    >>Whether paid or unpaid, there needs to be an >>explicit go-to person for design and usability >>with the authority to decide in what direction >>to herd the Drupal felines.

    >>I could see that being like the head of the >>security team, or like the branch release >>manager (webchick, Gabor, drumm, etc.). I’m >>flexible there, but a more formal and >>recognized UX/Design team, like the Security >>team, is very important.

    I think this is really the essence of what Leisa was trying to convey and needs to be given serious thought. Well put.

    Along with the new movement/momentum for design building up within the drupal community, having a formal team/champion(s) for UI would round out the architectural underpinnings of Drupal and make it an even more solid software engineering effort.

  13. Pasqualle July 4, 2009 at 3:47 am #

    I am trying to make my modules to look like views2. So, do not even think about “fixing” it.. If you think it is difficult, then use simpleviews. The views difficulty is not an UI problem.

    • dddave July 4, 2009 at 11:13 am #

      Second this. Miles and the few brave people helping him did an amazing job. Considering what he is doing on usability effort for P3 makes clear that he really keeps usability in mind. And by the way I like the UI very much.

      The other points are worth discussion and your effort on the usability front seems to be producing quite a bunch of improvements.

  14. SLIU July 4, 2009 at 4:30 am #

    What you need is a Design Community Manager Leader that people are willing to follow. However, unfortunately Designers as a group usually don’t like to follow.

    • leisa.reichelt July 4, 2009 at 2:34 pm #

      I don’t think it’s about ‘following’ at all. I think you’re right that the word ‘Manager’ is not a good choice. I don’t envisage this being in anyway similar to a ‘line management’ arrangement, rather it is all about coordination and support and faciliating contributors so that Drupal gets the most impact from whatever time they have to contribute.

      • SLIU July 4, 2009 at 8:02 pm #

        I think you are right. The role should be a coordinator instead of leader.

        An effective coordinator should listen to both merlinofchaos and someone building a Drupal site for the first time. And keep in mind that UX testing is not context free either. No “scientific method” should be applied without its premises.

  15. SLIU July 4, 2009 at 4:46 am #

    concentrated work on known difficult interfaces that should be easier. (ahem… views… ahem)

    A qualified Drupal Design Manager should understand WHY views is the most popular module and at least 80% of the WHYs (not technical details) behind those 6000 issues (how many hours would it take?)

    http://drupal.org/project/issues/views?status=All&categories=All

    • leisa.reichelt July 4, 2009 at 2:49 pm #

      why view is the most popular module and whether it’s UI could/should be improved are two completely different issues IMHO. But we should have that discussion elsewhere. And, yes, the issue queue is an excellent place for that.

  16. merlinofchaos July 4, 2009 at 5:28 am #

    What I’ve learned about the Views UI in the year that it’s been out there.

    It has a couple of quirks that are difficult. It’d be nice to find ways of improving them. The vast majority of suggestions tend to improve one area at the expense of another, however, and thus I’ve been resistant to them.

    I would like to personally thank everyone who has stepped up to explain what has gone into Views. Having it singled out as the UI in Drupal that needs the most work is a little frustrating, given the amount of effort that went into this UI from a multitude of sources, including the months I spent laboring just to make the underlying tools so that many of the things it does is even impossible.

    What’s wrong with the Views UI? Judging from the issue queue and where people are willing to complain about it:

    1) The override/default stuff is really tricky. Every possibility that we’ve considered, so far, leaves at least one major flaw. The current one contains the flaw that it’s difficult for people to understand whether they’re editing the current display or the default display. Some people want it to automatically edit the current display and override if you make changes. But that leads to extra clicks if you actually mean to update the default, and clicks that hide a lot of information from you.

    2) Overrides are especially tricky with fields and sorts and stuff that, for technical reasons, are overridden as a group, not individually.

    3) The ‘ajax pad’ where the form shows up, on smaller screens, appears too low. Now that I understand how to scroll the viewport, I can do some to fix this.

    The other thing that’s wrong with the Views UI is not, in fact, a problem with the Views UI. It’s a problem of the knowledge required to use it. That is, you can’t really have a generic query builder with all of the data at your fingertips unless you first understand the data you’re querying. The problem is one of teaching people about this data. When the extent of that data is distressingly pluggable. Perhaps it is the responsibility of Views to try and teach people more about this data so they can more easily figure out what the data they need to use actually is, but man-months spent reading and answering support requests tells me that the biggest problem, by FAR, is that Views requires the user to learn about nodes and users and CCK files and how multiple value relationships work and cause duplicate records.

    Maybe this is fixable. That, I don’t know. But it’s not an easy problem to solve. I also don’t believe that a truly flexible query builder will ever actually be easy to use. I’ve never seen one. And Views is not the thing that people really stumble on with Drupal. People who are stumbling all over on Views are experiencing a lot of other problems too. With Views, the learning curve has shown itself to be much shallower than with Drupal in general. Sure, it’s steep. You’re not going to set down with Views and have something in 5 minutes, but then again, it’s not as straightforward as “I want a site with a few pages that say this, this and that.” It’s hard to really understand why you even NEED Views until you’ve got a pretty good design for a website.

    • leisa.reichelt July 4, 2009 at 3:00 pm #

      merlinofchaos – as I have noted above it was foolish of me to specifically point out Views as an interface in need of UX love, because I know that you have given it a lot of thought as have others in the community. Also because it is a completely separate conversation to the one I am trying to have here. my apologies.

      as i’ve also noted above, if you’d like me to help out at all in seeing what we can do to make Views more accessible to people earlier in the learning process, I’d love to help out.

      I think what I’d be proposing we do is:
      a) define who Views if for – who do we *want* to be able to use it? Do we want a relative newcomer but someone who understands basic database functionality to be able to use it? (which seems reasonable to me), then:
      b) do some testing – it doesn’t need to be fancy lab based testing, let’s just get a few of us out to do a few test sessions each and watch these people using it, that should give us a really good steer as to what we need to do to:
      c) design some alternatives and re-test (as above).

      This is the kind of thing I could do as an ‘add on’ to some of the research I do for other projects potentially, so I might even be able to squeeze in a little more than 5hrs a week :)

      let’s talk more about this elsewhere if you’re interested.

      • BryanSD July 5, 2009 at 6:58 pm #

        What audience do you test for Views? I think that’s a good question. Personally, I would never recommend Views for any newcomers no matter how good its UI is. I really think the first phase of introducing Drupal needs to be focused on presenting what Drupal can do without significant customization.

        I don’t know how many people over the years have ask me what contributed modules I’m using to get the functions they see in my site. In many of these cases I’m only using core modules and maybe a few snips of code in the blocks. Sure Views can help you achieve your goals a lot quicker, but to use Views effectively understanding of Drupal and it’s data structure should be a prerequisite.

        I think for more advanced Drupal modules (Views, CCK, etc) the test audience really should have some Drupal experience but not be developers nor Drupal fanatics.

        Leisa, by the way, most UI testing I’ve seen always has people at a testing location being watch. Has there ever been efforts to test remotely? I would think if off location uesr’s screen could be recorded and sent to usability teams…that would open the door to the larger Drupal.org audience (as well as save on expenses).

        -Bryan

        (By the way, would be nice to be able to preview my comments before submitting them).

      • leisa.reichelt July 5, 2009 at 7:11 pm #

        it is a really interesting question, isn’t it – it may even be that because Views is so well known, other more simple solutions that are better for those people earlier on the learning curve aren’t considered as options… which is a whole other issue!

        I’d really love to see lots more less formal usability testing done. I have to say that I am a big fan of ‘observational’ testing because I’ve found the richness of the insight you get to be so much greater, but having said that the best way to do that is by going to where your participants work and doing the testing in their own environment (which is something I do all the time) – even doing two or three quick but highly focussed tests will give amazing insight.

        Online is also, as you say, an approach that we could be using a lot more than we have to date and it would provide very valuable insight.

        My dream is that, just as we are now starting to include a screenshot of the UI with a submitted patch, we will in the future be also able to reference video clips of ‘before and after’ – so we can see evidence of how and why people are struggling and also that the proposed design is actually effective.

        And I don’t think that’s as pie in the sky as it sounds… if we had someone to coordinate and direct the efforts (hence the original post!)

        (and yes, I really should get both comment previewing and ability to subscribe without commenting added to my blog… it is on my to do list!)

    • SLIU July 4, 2009 at 8:17 pm #

      The “UX challenges” of views are actually User Learning eXperience (ULX) challenges because most visitors to a views powered Drupal site have no idea what views are and don’t care either.

      Use a car metaphor, it is easy to get a driver’s liscense but not everyone can or want to be a mechanic.

      On the other hand an easy to service car definitely more competitive in the market.

    • Voxon July 5, 2009 at 5:42 am #

      “a) define who Views if for – who do we *want* to be able to use it? Do we want a relative newcomer but someone who understands basic database functionality to be able to use it? ”

      As a newcomer I found it USEFUL, EASY and HELPFUL, && as I grew more with Drupal I find Views USEFUL, EASY and HELPFUL. Views is for BOTH.

      “b) do some testing – it doesn’t need to be fancy lab based testing, let’s just get a few of us out to do a few test sessions each and watch these people using it”

      If you follow the Drupal.org forums these test is being done by all levels of people all the time 24x7x365. Read their feedbacks, problems, issues – that is the real test. Any other tests = bogus!

      “c) design some alternatives and re-test (as above).”

      Views 2 has been alternative to Views 1 and a pleasant one. And useful too. Views 3 roadmap shows it is proceeding in the right path.

      “let’s talk more about this elsewhere if you’re interested.”

      Talk in drupal.org forums. Nice and useful place. No need to go elsewhere and split the community!

      • leisa.reichelt July 5, 2009 at 8:35 am #

        Suggesting that the issue queue is reflective of the full range of user experience is a dangerous mistake. The issue queue, support forums, IRC would represent just a tiny percentage of the number of people who approach Drupal, who try to bend it to their will, and who fail.

        I’m not suggesting for a moment that the Views interface is responsible for that, it is *much* bigger than that.

        I do not see a culture of Drupallers going out into the world of ‘people who should be able to use Drupal but don’t’ and actually doing observational testing to learn how we could be doing better – that is what I’m talking about here and that is what I propose we do a lot more of.

      • Voxon July 5, 2009 at 2:50 pm #

        I said “If you follow the Drupal.org forums” – please note that! Yes forum + issue queue + others like groups etc DO REFLECT A FULLER population who are actually trying out Drupal spontaneously and out of need – rather than you setting up some test environment and approaching them, even if they were not needing Drupal.

        What do you mean by they are “tiny percentage of the number of people” ? Can you get a greater number of people by your “tests” ? This is simply impossible. From the days of D 4.7x and Views 1 these people have been the real testers and their number and though output is SO MASSIVE over the years that you cannot just get those results by “tests”

        If you want to do really better, explore these – there are so many betterment ideas there lying and lurking. No point in re-inventing wheel in attempt to establish usefulness of “tests”.

  17. ben_ July 4, 2009 at 12:14 pm #

    Although everything you wrote in this article seems perfectly correct to me … I think it’s time to say THANK YOU! Although you might feel frustrated, you did an extremely important contribution to Drupal and it’s long way to lead the web to it’s full potential. You introduced advanced methods and ways of thinking and working on usablity to the community and at least I will remeber that. It was and still is a pleasure to watch you develop Drupal.
    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  18. Bill Fitzgerald July 5, 2009 at 12:29 am #

    Hello, Leisa (and others),

    Leisa — I actually wish you hadn’t edited your original post to remove the views reference — it removes a context that is valuable for people looking to understand how design has been working in the Drupal community.

    Reading through the various threads that are available about the genesis of the Views2 UI provide a valuable window into what a distributed design process can look like. This process was completely transparent, had a large amount of community feedback, and resulted in a well-defined, comprehensible UI. As Earl points out, you need to actually understand what Views does in order to use it, and that’s not really a fault of the software. Moreover, as another commenter pointed out, Views2 provides an API, so that any designer (or designer/developer partnership) could provide an alternative UI, such as Simpleviews.

    In short, the design process you describe as something that could be useful for the Drupal community *has already been used* in the Drupal community — the various threads about developing the Views2 UI are useful to see — from a process place — what worked, and what didn’t.

    And please don’t misunderstand — I’m not saying that the Views2 design process was perfect — there definitely could have been/should have been more people involved. But it’s very relevant here, given that it was a publicly accessible design process, and that the structure around it is very similar to what you are proposing in this post.

    On a related note, I would also love to see more exploration of the relationship between design and context-specific help. Views2, with its extensive use of Advanced Help, already makes use of this — IMO, this aspect of UX is not getting the attention it deserves.

    Drupal is complex, but nowhere near as complex as people make it out to be. I have found that people new to Drupal tend to overstate the complexity by conflating what they don’t understand with something that is not comprehensible. I find this to be particularly true with people coming from other software projects, as they have a preconceived notion of how software should work — basically, they have a hard time getting to a state of “beginner’s mind”.

    Another source of Drupal’s perceived complexity has to do with the numerous contexts into which Drupal fits. Attempting to design a UX that will work for every Drupal site generally won’t happen. The act of publishing content is rooted in context; publishing is different on a newspaper site than a personal blog than on a social network. While there are similarities, good UX (IMO) needs to be explicit about context.

    Like others in this thread, I hope you stick around. Please, don’t get thrown by sharp feedback in the issue queues — as you likely have seen by this point, the Drupal community is passion-driven, and people care about these issues. As you continue on with this work, I hope you also take the time to leverage the work that been going on in the community for a long time — there are smart people who are passionate about design, and the user experience, who have been working on these issues for a long time.

    Cheers,

    Bill

    • leisa.reichelt July 5, 2009 at 8:46 am #

      Bill

      thanks for your comment. It is very rare that I’ll go back and edit my posts, however I do it more as a mark of respect for merlinofchaos and the hope that we stop talking about View so much and start actually talking about the topic at hand. The placement of the comment is noted in the post and the content is very easily traced in the comments, so it is certainly not lost.

      With regards to the views interface and the design process, here are (more of) my thoughts – yes, you do need to know what views does in order to be able to use it, I completely understand and accept that – this is why in one of my comments above the first thing I suggest we do is to define *who* should be able to use Views. For example – I understand some (perhaps not all) of what Views can allow me to do on my website and I have a good general understanding of how databases work but haven’t written an SQL query in a few years (and was never much good at it) – should I be able to use Views? I’d have thought so.

      So, I understand that the interface requires a certain amount of complexity and a a certain domain knowledge, I still think that it retains unnecessary complexity in places and could benefit from layout/visual changes to suggest hierarchy and order.

      Also, as I suggested to Bojhan at WebJam, newcomers do much better at ‘editing’ than ‘creating’ complicated settings like these – I bet we could define 4-5 of the most common uses of Views and present them as editable presets.

      There are LOTS of ways to approach this – I know that there has been a LOT of discussion around this – that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t consider it further if it’s not as good as it could be.

      And honestly, the harshness of the ‘you don’t know what you’re talking about, we’ve already done this and we know best’ attitude that is so often the response to any suggestion of change is a real disincentive to sticking around.

      I’m sure going to try to stick around but, as one of my Drupal Usability mentors said – I’ll probably quit once or twice a day. ;)

      • Bill Fitzgerald July 5, 2009 at 3:50 pm #

        Hello, Leisa,

        RE the blend of the Views discussions and the Drupal design discussions — IMO, it’s difficult to separate them, for a couple reasons, but mainly because Views (both 1 and 2) have become an indispensable part of a site builder’s toolkit.

        Personally, I find Views2 invaluable from a training standpoint, as Views pulls from most corners of what Drupal can do — from that perspective, Views can be considered a window into how Drupal works.

        RE: “the harshness of the ‘you don’t know what you’re talking about, we’ve already done this and we know best’ attitude” — yeah, it can definitely be offputting. Using feedback provided in the issue queue is an art form in and of itself, as some of it is informed, some of it is well-intentioned, and some of it is less than useful — but, some of the less than useful feedback actually contains mildly relevant information, so it probably shouldn’t be disregarded wholesale.

        And, fwiw, I agree that your assessment that the issue queue is not indicative of the larger user pool. Many people who use Drupal have no idea of the existence of the issue queue, let alone how to work in it.

        RE: “I do not see a culture of Drupallers going out into the world of ‘people who should be able to use Drupal but don’t’ and actually doing observational testing to learn how we could be doing better” — there are a lot of people who spend a lot of time working with people on how to use Drupal. If these people could be prepared with some better tools to allow some training/beta testing exercises to also capture usability data, some good things could start happening.

        @Voxon — arguing about the usefulness of focused usability testing really isn’t a strong place from which to argue.

      • Voxon July 5, 2009 at 4:05 pm #

        Usability testing did not give birth to drupal and does not give it growth too!

        People may not know about issue queue (really? who are posting thousands of issues then?) but they DO know about forums, groups, documentations. See the enormous amount of feedbacks, reports of test-installs and test-runs of drupal and other questions and problems. You need to come out SERIOUSLY out of this fixed-idea of usability testing and the mentality of “I know what is right usability testing”.

        You may need to rewrite the rules of usability testing by starting from THERE. Ignoring the vast amount of material that is already there and keeping it unsolved by ignoring the real problems of real people ( as opposed to test people) will not really land up anywhere.

        If you follow carefully the output of this usability exercise over the last one year nothing new has come out – all the suggestions were there in the forums and groups for the last 4, 5 or 6 years. No one was listening perhaps!

      • Laura July 5, 2009 at 5:00 pm #

        Re comments by @Voxon

        As someone who has been working with Drupal for 5 years, I can certainly see that in the hundreds of thousands of nodes and gazillion comments there are few ideas left out. But how do you evaluate them and quantify that and use that information as a focus for a rearchitecting endeavor?

        “Turn the tabs into buttons”

        “Everything should be tabbed”

        “This UI makes no sense.”

        “This UI is the best in Drupal!”

        “This should be more like X.”

        “This should be more like Y.”

        There are suggestions for just about everything under the sun. Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t see how doing nothing but “listening” to the cacophony is going to result in a focused critical mass towards UI improvement. There are good suggestions and crap suggestions. Usability testing is just one way of highlighting just a few. And it is one way of avoiding the self-selection that ends up filtering who and what gets posted in the issue queues. (And the forums? Most of the community ignore the forums for the low signal-to-noise ratio, which results in the forums ending up being populated by yet another self-selected group.)

        @Voxon, if you’re not interested in #d7ux, then I humbly suggest you move on and do your own thing. Scratch your own itch, and stop worrying about other people’s itches. It’s still Drupal, and nobody is preventing you from doing your own thing your own way. Maybe in this do-ocracy, you could start by following up on what you suggest: parsing through the millions of nodes and comments and give us an authoritative distillation from which a usability improvement plan can build. That would be very helpful information!

      • Larry Garfield July 5, 2009 at 5:16 pm #

        Voxon, random comments in the issue queue or forums do not give any reason why they’re a good idea. People post lots of crazy ideas. Which 5% are actually a good idea? You don’t know without a proper analysis and testing, which is what we do on a much smaller scale with code patches. The testing we do there is performance testing, and the analysis is based on DX and flexibility.

        Even moreso than code, an interface design needs a consistent, cohesive mental model and organizational structure. The “rules of usability testing” have been established over the past 20 years by empirical research and are quite widely used because they work. Throwing that out in favor of “lots of random little suggestions with no substantiation behind them” would be, quite simply, incredibly stupid.

        Remember, there are several times as many Drupal sites out there as there are Drupal.org accounts. Clearly there are a *lot* of people using Drupal who never log in to Drupal.org. Shall we ignore them? I’d rather not.

        Formal usability testing is what got us the D5/D6 admin structure. Yes it could use work, but it was an enormous leap over Drupal 4.7′s “big pile o’ links” under admin/settings. Usability testing works.

        The same, actually, holds true for code. One reason that Drupal’s APIs are not always that consistent is that we deal in micro-level improvements rather than macro-level improvements. That’s a problem, just not as large of one because a much smaller set of people deal with Drupal code and they’re more invested so more likely to deal with inconsistencies. That’s also a problem we need to solve, in another effort. Come to my session on Drupal Design Patterns at DrupalCon Paris for more details. :-)

      • venkat-rk July 5, 2009 at 5:20 pm #

        @Voxon: I think most of the community that has been following and contributing to Mark and Leisa’s efforts at improving the Drupal 7 UX would be hard pressed to agree with the statement that usability testing does not give growth to Drupal. You can see the advancements unfolding before your own eyes and I don’t know what that is, if not growth.

        There is also no need to be so disparaging about the usability efforts – if they were all there for 5 or 6 years and nothing is new, at least you have to give Mark, Leisa and team (including the drupal community) credit for finally bringing it to reality (or at least trying to)?

        I run a very small drupal shop and, yet, even with just the two-dozen odd clients we have serviced till date, I wholeheartedly agree with Leisa that the issue queue does not make the Drupal universe. Personally, I agree with Bill that the people who spend time working with people who use Drupal could to be given the tools to gather formal usability data as part of their training/testing exercises.

      • Voxon July 5, 2009 at 7:52 pm #

        @Laura – You can scratch your own itch too. And ignore me.

        That distillation is called “Datamining” and there are professionals who can do that for you. That distillation can be a new way of usability testing too.

        The first thing in usability is you need stuffs that you can use. Unless there are features that you can compete with competitor CMSes what UI are you building ? The two are integrated.

        “listening” means responding and solving the problem. When you have listened to a complaint means you are taking care of that or have taken care of that. It is idiomatic English and sorry I forgot idioms are not for everyone.

        Here’s an “authoritative distillation” you asked for – with your five years experience you please develop UI or whatever needed to solve this :

        1. UI to hide your online status or decide to show them at will. Either it is on for all users or it is off for all users.
        2. Abuse control – The Abuse module has threshold set to hide content when say, for example, 10 users report against a content it is supposed to get hidden. Now if you have Views ( a plugin to build up topic lists and display) the hidden topic still shows up. The two plugins or modules do not talk to each other.
        3. Blocking an user -UI to block a single user completely
        4. RSS – the site admin cannot put off RSS. The users have no choice top put on or off RSS of their own posts. UI needed.
        5. No decent image gallery. UI needed so that users can do it easily.
        6. Out of the box Social Profile like Buddypress, Elgg or Dolphin Boonex – users are seeking this most common user to user interface.

        7. MULTIPLE BLOGS per user – you can configure WordPress MU to have as many blogs as an user wants. This is simply impossible in Drupal

        8. Search – A good php based search that does not leave me scurrying for Java

        9.

        10.

        9, 10 I leave for you. And you are free not scratch :)

  19. Voxon July 5, 2009 at 3:01 pm #

    ‘you don’t know what you’re talking about, we’ve already done this and we know best’

    - You need to see the truth. You need to be open to the truth and facts, and not get hurt when it is truth. You can quit even more than that, and it can work like charm for all :)

  20. Gabriel July 6, 2009 at 4:21 am #

    Usability is how we can use things. Drupal has been usable no doubt so far and so long. That is how it is at the top of CMSes that meets complex needs and has a CFM mixture well balanced in its core.

    Usability enhancements has been done by the community and is being done by the community. Just like the 30 roles example cited by Dries you can hire externally teams for Features, Marketing etc.

    The problem here has been acceptance with those who are doing the so-called usability runs. Instead of bashing someone or some people with passion about Drupal it is worth thinking “How usable and user*friendly* this team has been”?

    If they have been user-friendly users would not have been upset. Period.

    The changes made in Drupal.org website were long suggested and very prominent issues. It is the competition from other CMSes that Drupal had to sit up, take a note and made these changes. IMHO this has very little to do with the so called UI team so far!
    As far as the Growth contributed by this team to Drupal the CMS, statistics is not yet out as Drupal 7 have not been released and the growth which we see or which is continuing are due to Drupal 5 and 6, which have no significant contributions from this team.

    I hope my opinion is published. Any attack is welcome.

    • leisa.reichelt July 6, 2009 at 8:17 am #

      ‘Gabriel’, yes, I will publish your attack, but this is the last time as I noticed your email address is the same as ‘Voxon’ above and as I sense that we’ve heard your message on several occasions past under the guise of ‘Minnesota’ on Drupal.org – on previous occasions, I think your point has been made, as is the very obvious personal campaign you have against us.

      Point taken. Enough.

      • Gabriel Voxon July 6, 2009 at 10:49 am #

        Ed: Post removed as per previous warning.

  21. maureen July 7, 2009 at 4:13 am #

    There is no lack of UX people interested in contributing to open source projects. This summer Firefox received 120 concepts for the Design Challenge (http://design-challenge.mozilla.com/summer09/showcase.php).

    I suggest reaching out to university HCI, interaction design and other programs. It is as a master’s student in HCI at the University of Michigan that I first started working with Drupal! First, it needs to be clear and easy how one joins the ux Drupal team that Bojhan Somers speaks of. I for one do not know (though I was able to easily join the d7ux project…)

    Building a UX community around Drupal is not going to be easy (has any open source project really been able to engage with this community?) My hunch is that it will require a different framework than the one used by developers.

  22. daniel reeders July 9, 2009 at 6:57 am #

    In the world of tech it’s normal to reach for management vocabulary, but what you’re describing sounds more to me like a design community ORGANISER, in the tradition of Saul Alinsky and Obama after him in Chicago, or Harvey Milk in San Francisco.

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