Karen McGrane

Improving the Drupal Admin Interface


Be careful what you wish for — good advice! In working with various content management systems, I’ve always wanted the chance to improve the user experience. But actually getting the opportunity to do so uncovered much more complexity than I’d even dreamed.

For me, the biggest challenge was in bridging the gap between what the users of Buzzr would expect to do, and how the Drupal admin interface actually works. It’s possible to do so much in Drupal if you’re a trained professional — but is it possible to enable ordinary people to take advantage of what Drupal has to offer?

The three areas of greatest conceptual difficulty for the user (from my perspective) are:

1. Confusing overlap among blocks, pages, templates, and features

For a user (even a relatively experienced user) trying to set up a new site or manage an existing one, configuring “what you want on your website” first starts with deciding what goes in the navigation. But what are those things? Are they features (“blog” or “wiki”) that might have any number of pages associated with them? Are they static pages, or are they dynamic containers? Is it clear what it means to choose a template layout  like “gallery view”? If they choose to show information in the sidebar, do those blocks appear on every page?

2. Confusing overlap between page layout and page design

When a user thinks about “designing” the site or choosing a “theme”, what does she mean? Is it the colors and the typography? Is it the underlying column and grid structure? The placement of the navigation bar? What about the categories and types of pages that go in the navigation? Even though I’ve dealt with these very issues every day at work for nearly 15 years, it’s not always clear to me — and certainly wasn’t clear-cut to our users.

3. Confusing overlap between navigation and views
The ability to create custom views of content is one of Drupal’s strengths. Communicating that capability to a site administrator so she can set up her own filters can be tricky. How do you explain that some navigation elements are views on the same content (products filtered by product type, or posts filtered by location, for example) and some navigation options are to static page templates?

We puzzled through these issues for quite some time, and I know we’ve made good progress. But we’re focusing on the needs of one particular type of user. Solving these issues to meet the needs of the wide range of people who use the Drupal admin interface is vastly more complex.