5 Things New Drupal Site Builders Struggle With

Dec 19, 2018 · by Suzanne Dergacheva

I’ve recently been researching, writing, and talking about the content editor experience in Drupal 8. However, in the back of my mind I’ve been reflecting on the site builder experience. Every developer and site builder who learns Drupal is going to use the admin UI to get their site up-and-running. What are some things site builders often struggle with in the admin UI when learning Drupal?

Blocks

For most Drupal site builders, the Block layout page is key to learning how Drupal works. However, there is more to Blocks than just the Block layout page. You can also create different types of blocks with different fields in Drupal 8.

Site builders new to Drupal don’t usually stumble across the Block Types page on their own. In fact, I think a lot of site builders don’t know about block types at all. Probably because "Block Types" is not listed in the in the 2nd level of the administration menu under “Structure”, but instead buried in the third level of the menu. There's already work underway to make this change.

Similarly, site builders might never find the “Custom block library” page for creating block content. Depending on how blocks are being used on a particular site, this page might be more logically nested under “Content”. If you like this idea, there's an issue on Drupal.org to make this update and a discussion about how best to integrate it into Drupal 8 (or 9).

Many users never find the “Demonstrate block regions” link, a really key page for anyone learning how Drupal works and what regions are. Most Drupal site builders who see this page for the first time are delighted, so making this link more prominent might be an easy way to improve the experience for site builders.

Appearance

Typically, a Drupal site has two themes: the default/front-end theme and the admin/back-end theme. The appearance page doesn’t make this clear. Some site builders learning Drupal end up enabling an admin theme on the front-end or a front-end theme for the admin UI. I think the term "default theme" is confusing for new users. And making a consistent UI for setting a theme as the default theme or the admin theme would be a nice improvement. If you like this idea, you can jump into the conversation about updating the appearance page.

Install vs. Download

The difference between installing and downloading a module is not laid out clearly. If someone is trying Drupal for the first time, they’ll likely use the UI to try and install modules, rather than do it through the command line. In the UI, they see the link to “Install New Module”. Once this is done, it seems like the module should be installed. Even though they have the links available to “Enable newly installed modules”, they might not read these options carefully. I think re-labelling the initial link to "Download New Module" might help here.

Most users are also confused about how to uninstall a module. They don’t know why they can’t uncheck a checkbox on the "Extend" page. Providing a more visible link to the uninstall page from installed modules might help with this.

Configuration Management

The UI for configuration management is pretty hidden in Drupal 8. In practice, configuration management is something we typically do via the command line, this is how most seasoned Drupalers would import/export configuration. However, for someone learning how Drupal 8 works, they’re going to be learning initially from the UI. And at the moment, site builders are virtually unaware of Configuration Management and how it affects their work.

Having some kind of simple reminder in the UI to show site builders the status of their configuration could go a long way to them understanding the configuration management workflow and that they should be using it.

The Admin Toolbar

Everyone loves the admin toolbar module. Once it’s installed, site builders are happy and ask “Why isn’t this part of Drupal core?”

But, for a certain set of people, it’s not clear that the top-level of this navigation is clickable. The top-level pages for “Configuration” and “Structure” are index pages that we don’t normally visit. But the “Content” page provides the content listing, and the “Extend” page shows use all our modules. These are obviously key pages. Imagine trying to learn Drupal if you don’t realize you can click on these pages for the first week. But users who are used to not being able to click top-level elements might simply miss these pages. Does anyone know a good way to signal that these are clickable?

What's Next?

I would love to hear how you think we should improve the admin UI for site builders and if you have any thoughts on my suggestions. 

One thing that I'm very excited about that's already happening is a new design to modernize the look and feel of the Admin UI in Drupal. This will go a long way to making Drupal seem more comfortable and easy to use for everyone, content editors and site builders alike. You can see the new designs here.