This is the last post (first and second post) about my experiences from my thesis and this time I will focus on how you as a developer can improve the user experience for your editors in the Polopoly Admin GUI. This is not only an initial problem when first implementing a web site in Polopoly, but also when developing and changing the implementation over time.
In my thesis several editorial staffs participated from different types of organizations and using different web content management systems (WCMS). Some of them had worked really hard to make the user experience as good as possible for the editors. Some had not done as well and they had often forgotten the most important aspect of software development: the users and, maybe more important, the tasks and activities of the users. This means all users and not only the boss or the people speaking out the loudest.
As mentioned in the last post, the initial user experience is based on the choice of web content management system as well as the provided guidelines of developing the editor’s user interface. After that, it is up to the implementers to implement the web content management system and make the user interface usable, efficient and effective. This is more important in a web content management system like Polopoly, than, for example, EpiServer or Sitecore.
Content is king and, therefore, the users producing the content must be gods. You have to know your users and how they work both outside and inside the web content management system. With very little effort, you can learn a lot. Ask them if you can observe what they are doing during an hour or two, or even better, a whole day. Do not focus on their opinions, but rather on their tasks and activities and how your knowledge about the features of the web content management system can support them.
When I observed different editorial staffs I found some general aspects that might help you to better understand your editors. First, editors are busy people with a lot to think about. Second, they are creative and they want the software system to support them to be creative. Third, they are organizers and, therefore, the software systems they use should support them to stay organized. Last, and maybe most important, they want to get things done. To summarize, the editors want web content management systems to make them more effective and efficient. That means supporting their activities as good as possible.
Besides understanding the users, knowledge about usability and interaction design is a self-evident tool in every developer’s toolbox. Usability and interaction design is not only important for the frontend user interface, but also for the backend user interface. If you feel that interaction design and user-centered design is not part of your toolbox yet, order Designing the obvious or Don’t make me think from your favorite bookstore. These are short books that you read in an evening or two and, most important, they are really funny and easy to read.
Last, two tips to think about when designing the Polopoly Admin GUI. When I observed editors using different implementations of Polopoly, they usually searched or browsed to find content in the left frame. Editors of different organizations had different information seeking behaviors. After you have identified the editors’ preferred method to find content, make it as efficient as possible to use it. Even if it might be hard to think, it is possible to improve the interaction design of that left frame more than you think.
Tabs are essential in the Polopoly Admin GUI on many levels. As mentioned before, you have to found out how your editors work with content to divide the content right. For example, if you observe that editors switch between two tabs in a content several times in a minute, it might be better to have all that information in one tab. In this case, scrolling with the mouse wheel is often faster. I you have ridiculous much scrolling, it might be better to divide the content into two or more tabs. Especially if you observe that some forms are not used as much. You have to observe and understand the users to make the right design decisions.
To conclude, try to design the Polopoly GUI for the 90% that will really be using the system and get out into the wild to learn more about them. If you try to adopt a 1-click mentality, you might be able to cut down on all those tabs and make the editors more pleased with the web content management system.
This is really just touching the surface of how to understand and designing the Polopoly Admin GUI as this had nothing really to do with my thesis. If you have other observations, please leave a comment below and share your insights of how you and your organization design your Polopoly Admin GUI.
If you want to learn more about how I conducted my thesis and more examples and solutions, read my thesis.
Max Walter is a soon- to-graduate computer science student at the Royal Institute of Technology that did his master thesis at Atex Polopoly. He is also working as a usability consultant at Metamatrix. During his studies he has written computer books for beginners and articles in Sweden’s largest computer magazine for advanced users, Datormagazin. Read more about him at LinkedIn, follow him on Twitter or read his online business card at http://2mw.se.
Image © iStockphotoTaggar: backend usability, cms, ixd, kth, polopoly, polopolyforum, thesis, usability, user experience, ux, WCMS