Drupal Admin UX Study: the Survey Results Are In!

Aug 21, 2018 · by Suzanne Dergacheva

The administrative interface for Drupal is notoriously intimidating for content editors who are new to the platform. I do a lot of training for Drupal content editors and administrators and have witnessed this first-hand. I've written and spoken in the past about how site builders can improve the user experience for content editors by making configuration changes. However, there are lots of improvements that could be made to Drupal out-of-the-box.

I’m working with the Admin UX User Study group in the Drupal community. We're doing user research to help inform improvements to the Drupal admin UI. Our goal is to make Drupal an amazing platform for site administrators. Our first priority is the user experience of content editors.

We started by conducting a survey to look at how content editors use Drupal now and the challenges and pain points they face. So far, we've had 260 submissions to the content editor survey and have some interesting results to share!

What’s rewarding about using Drupal?

We asked content editors about the rewarding aspects of using Drupal. Almost every response included the adjectives flexible and customizable. Editors like that Drupal allows them to have control over their content.

What’s challenging about using Drupal?

While our respondents tended to agree about why they like Drupal, they had many different answers when we asked them about the challenges they face.

Many respondents voiced the paradox that the flexibility of Drupal and the customization that it allows also makes the interface complex and a challenge to use. Content editors specifically mentioned that the UI provided by paragraphs and panels adds a lot of complexity.

Content editors talked about the challenges of finding documentation, working with media, understanding jargon and technical terminology, and finding what content to edit. A couple respondents mentioned that adding content translation to the mix further complicates the content editing interface.

What can we improve about the content editorial experience?

Good news! The things that content editors want to improve about Drupal are mostly areas where the community is already working. The most common improvement suggested was providing a more modern UI, which is exactly what the Drupal Admin UI Initiative is focusing on.

Not surprisingly, it seems that content editors want a better experience on the content overview page, the content editing page, and the tools available on those pages, like media management, page-building tools (e.g. paragraphs and panels), and WYSIWYG.

Here are the highlights of what content editors suggested:

  • A more modern UI. Several content editors mentioned WordPress with Gutenberg and SquareSpace as examples of a more modern UI to emulate.
  • Simplifying the complexity of the content editing UI. This is particularly challenging when the editing experience is actually a page building experience, like when sites have paragraphs, panels, or the layout builder module enabled.
  • Better media management. Content editors mentioned file versioning, asset libraries, and cited WordPress as an example of a good media management experience.
  • Improvements to the WYSIWYG editor. Several content editors mentioned specific improvements they would want to see, including auto-save.
  • More role-based configuration for content editors. Some content editors mentioned adding a special menu for content editors.

As a site builder, it’s interesting to note that a lot of pain points that respondents mentioned in the survey could be fixed with configuration changes. For example, reducing the permissions for content editors, giving them access to an admin menu with a limited set of options, and customizing some of the default widget settings. This means that maybe by configuring a role for content editors out-of-the-box, and tweaking some of Drupal's default configuration, we might be able to easily improve the content editing experience.

Another interesting note: no one mentioned a complete overhaul of the information architecture. Re-organizing all the items in the admin menu doesn't seem to be a top priority.

Tell me your story!

We also asked content editors what type of tasks they do on their sites. We gathered a lot of stories. Many self-ascribed content editors do site building and advanced admin tasks as well. A good reminder that the classic Drupal personas that we might have in mind, like site builder, content editor, and developer are probably too rigid. A lot of content editors do have full access to all the complexity of the Drupal admin UI.

What’s next?

We are an ambitious bunch with lots of ideas about what to do next! Our next steps are to do some initial user testing, and an online card sorting exercise.

We're planning to start the user testing with a smaller group of content editors. Our testing will include:

  • Testing the new admin UI wireframes that are being developed by the admin UI initiative
  • Doing a comparative study of the content overview, content edit pages and media management tools in other CMS’s to gather data about what aspects users like and what we can apply to Drupal
  • Later, a comparative study looking at page building tools

We’ll also do an online card sort exercise to gather information about how content editors would classify the stories that we gathered in the survey. This will help us generate suggestions for how to organize the information architecture of the admin UI in a more content editor-centric way.

I want a better admin UI now!

The team working on the Admin UX User Study includes Sarah Lowe, Michelle Jackson, Cristina Chumillas, Antonella Severo, and Roy Scholten. We need help recruiting content editors, planning and conducting user testing, and processing results from the tests, so please reach out to us on the #admin-ui channel on the Drupal slack if you want to help out. 

We’re excited about how the community will use the results of the user testing! Let us know if you have ideas for what we should be testing now and in the future.