usability of WP-admin

Dear WordPress community, we’ve turned WP-admin into a monster!

This blogpost is the written version of a talk I did at WordCamp Nijmegen on September 2, 2017. You can watch the video of this talk on WordCamp.tv.

The slides of the talk are available on Speaker Deck.

In June this year, three things happened. First thing was this tweet by Brian Krogsgard.  The image shows the wp-admin with a dashboard filled with notifications. The site needs 20 updates and it has 217 comments. I think we can agree on the fact that it’s not very easy to take over a WordPress website like this, that was built by someone else. Imagine what it’s like for someone with very little experience.

Another tweet I saw that week was by Jenny Beaumont saying: “We are failing, people”, after her husband had created a website in Wix with ease.

In that same week, I had to hand over a site I’d been working on for one of my clients to their new content manager. Although she was an experienced content manager who had been working with cms’s like Umbraco, it was pretty hard to explain her where to find what (and what the logic in it was).

Logging into a local business’s website, this is WordPress to most normal people. Sad. Very sad. pic.twitter.com/UgB4CIiyrK

— Brian Krogsgard (@Krogsgard) 27 juni 2017

Today he showed me his mockup on Wix and said, “I want my WordPress to look like that.” We are failing, people.

— Jenny Beaumont (@jennybeaumont) 26 juni 2017

So what’s been going on in WP-admin?

Back in the days, the WP-admin was easy and straight forward. Most people here probably know WordPress started out as a blogging platform. The menu items were still clear, tasks were easy and there were no such things as pages, plugins or other complicated but valuable features like webshops, social media integrations and forms.

From there, it organically grew to the cms it is nowadays, with a lot of added functionality through plugins.
Today, the plugin directory holds over 50.000 items. Fortunately, no one has installed all of them on their website. At least, not that I know of.

Although the record for the most number of plugins installed on a WordPress site is 637, I kid you not.

I don’t have exact numbers, but I believe on average, a WordPress has around 20-30 plugins installed. And when you look at this example of a WordPress website  with the most common plugins installed, imho, this already looks quite messy.

The usability of WP-admin

Well, instead of focussing on the usability of the front end of  websites, which I usually do,  I decided to focus on the usability of WP-admin, to see if it needs to and can be improved.

Why is this important? Shouldn’t people who don’t know what they’re doing stay away from WordPress? Is WordPress really for everybody?

Well I think it should be. And so does WordPress.org think. Because this is what you can read in the foundation’s philosophy:

“The mission of the WordPress open source project is to democratize publishing through Open Source, GPL software”.

These next 2 quotes also come from the WordPress philosophy saying:

“We love to challenge ourselves and simplify tasks in ways that are positive for the overall WordPress user experience.”

“Every version of WordPress should be easier and more enjoyable to use than
the last.”

But how do plugin developers think?

Taking WordPress’s philosophy as a starting point, I decided to do some research on the creator part first. For a non-developer, I thought it was important to find out how plugin developers think and make decisions. So I created a survey to get some answers, and I’d like to share the first findings here.

1.Our plugin developers are experienced (yay!). The majority of the respondents works with WordPress for more than 5 years.

plugin developers are experienced

2. On average, most plugin developers have 1-3 plugins in the WordPress directory.
So with approx. 50.000 plugins in the directory, and only around 48 devs responding to my questionnaire, I’m still waiting on over 16.000 plugin developers to fill out my form. I’m especially anxious to hear from the big 5, therefore, see this as an invite 😉

there are 1-3 plugins per developer in the WordPress directory

3. When you develop a plugin, do you think about where you implement your menu items? Luckily, most developers do give placement of their plugin menu items a good thinking.

where do you implement menu items

“Integration with WordPress is more important than company branding”

 

4. To create a more consistent way of developing plugins, 2 style guides are available. But unfortunately, most respondents haven’t heard of these. And of the people who have, only 50% actually uses them.

Helen Hou-Sandi has created one (https://github.com/helen/wp-style-guide). The other one is by Frank Bültge (https://github.com/bueltge/WordPress-Admin-Style)

5. Do you think the labels of the core menu items of WP Admin make sense?
Most common answer: Extra, Tools and Appearance are sometimes unclear

labels of WP core menu items make sense
WP notification system is used by majority

It will be too much to cover all of the answers, and I need to gather more data as well.

So is the outcome of this WP-admin research representative?

No, since we’ve only got feedback from a small group of people, in fact people that are well known with WordPress and the WP-admin.

But should it be? I think no.

Why not? The important thing to realise is, that if only one person thinks it could be improved, it’s worth improving. Although I’m happy to say that most of the respondents think likewise.

The majority thinks WP-admin needs improvement

Knowing that, where do we go from here? Well, this is not my party alone. I think everybody who’s involved in the WordPress project should care about usability. What works for you, doesn’t necessarily work for someone else.

It’s is important to know what the end users of WordPress, with all their different backgrounds, think.

So a next step should be end user research: how do they think? What’s their logic? I’m still putting together the survey and user test, but if you have any ideas or if you want to help: contact me. When the questionnaire is ready, You will help me by sharing it with all WordPress users you know and ask them to fill it out.

Another thing we’d like to do, is start a group of developers who’d like to work on more user friendly UI. Maybe the next contributor day at a WordCamp near you will have some space for a group to make a start. As said, we’re in the very early phase of this research and nothing is set in stone.

Future goals for greater usability of the WP-admin

(Some thoughts…)

  • better onboarding via email series or tooltips
  • more intuitive grouping of admin tasks
  • better guidance (checklist?) for plugin devs on how to create a plugin with an intuitive user interface
  • this research might first lead to creation of a (new?) plugin that gives WordPress website creators more flexibility on structure, functionality and look and feel per user
 (Plugin Admin menu editor can do this for you already)
    … that eventually will be integrated in core as an out-of-the-box feature in WP-admin

So if you are a plugin developer: please fill out the first part of the survey!

Plugin developer questionnaire can be found at: http://bit.do/wp-admin

usability makes people not hate you

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