Designing an Information Architecture (IA) for Drupal is an incredibly challenging project – essentially you are trying to design an IA that allows just about anyone to do just about anything. Flexibility is very often the enemy of good design – people make good and fast decisions with fewer options not more – but how do you choose the right options so that they work for as many people as possible? Tricky stuff.
To give you a sense of the breadth of the scope – we need to design for both:
- people who use Drupal every day (efficiency & capability is key) and people who are brand new (evaluators & learners – does this make sense to me, does it appeal to me, will I be able to use it to do what I want?)
- Verity, the content creator (ref: Who Is D7UX for, very limited set of tasks but very frequent use) through to existing power users/developers (know Drupal inside out and don’t want the UI to get in the way)
In devising the proposed information architecture we have applied the following principles/philosophies/guidelines:
- less clicks is not necessarily better: some of the early feedback we have had to the IA has been along the lines of ‘but I can get to this in one click using the Admin header now – this means I’ll have to make 3 clicks, therefore the IA is not as good’. The number of clicks to content is actually a poor metric of information architecture usability. Much better is the number of mistakes made – people don’t mind clicks if they are not lost, if they are confident that they are getting closer to the content/functionality they seek. Our information architecture is designed to support wayfinding and reduce errors in a system that can grow incredibly large.
- few options shown = more decisions made: at the moment, Drupal tends to show all of its options all of the time, this is incredibly overwhelming for many users. Generally speaking, as humans we do really well at choosing between say 3-4 options, and very badly at choosing between 24 options. We want to ‘break down’ the decision making as much as possible by grouping things together well and using good (human friendly) labels.
- group & order by frequency of use & complexity – tasks that are performed with high frequency/repetition are very different to tasks that you do only occasionally, especially in Drupal.There are many differences between ‘adding content’ and changing the file path for uploaded files.The more frequently I perform a task the more familiar I become with it, the more I become interested in efficiency (being able to do it more quickly), the more skilled I am at performing that task. So, for adding content, what we want to do is move anything out of the way that will impact on efficiency. If I make a mistake adding an article I can very quickly recover that mistake without significant systemwide impact.Tasks that I perform infrequently (like setting the filepath for uploaded documents) are very different. I am going to have to find the location of this task again (as I won’t ‘remember’ where it lives most likely), if I get it wrong it could have a significant impact systemwide. Accuracy is very important.We have placed the very frequently accessed tasks at one end of the IA (Content) and the less frequently at the other end (Config & Modules) to aid both findability and to support the different ‘postures’ that users have for these different tasks.
Walking through the top level navigation:
- Content: This is where you Add/Edit and Find content, including comments.
- Structure: This is where the ‘builder’ tools live – things that both have and create UIs, for example Blocks, Menus, and contrib modules like Panels and Views will live here.
- People: Similar to Content, this section allows you to Add/Edit and Find People on the site. People includes registered users and admins, but also lists of people extracted from content types (event participants, group members) – this is a kind of new concept so stay tuned for more details to follow.
- Appearance: Themes & Theme Config. This link is largely designed for ‘evaulators’ and new people to Drupal, as we know that Theme management is not a regularly accessed but is one of the first things that people look for and explore when ‘getting started’ with a content management system so we need to make it very findable (and also to send the right messages about Drupal and our attitude to design)
- Config & Modules: This is where you’ll find the configuration functionality that you access once in a blue moon (or possibly only the once when you set up the site) – we’re going to pull things like ‘roles’ and ‘permissions’ out of ‘people’ and put it over here (this is an example of the group & order by frequency of use & complexity principle). You’ll also get a full list of the currently installed modules, link to install new modules and ability to update/configure modules as well as a jumping off point for some of the major modules that require their own signficant interface, for example Ubercart.
Hack Your Own Experience:
There are so many different kinds of Drupal end users and Drupal sites that we need to provide an easy way to configure the interface to support your particular use case, and the way we are doing this is by allowing you to configure a set of ‘shortcuts’ on the taskbar (the icons below the header) and to configure a set of widgets for your dashboard (the first screen you see when you log in and accessible from the dashboard). So, for example, if your site was an online store, you might have dashboard widgets showing your latest orders, and a taskbar shortcut to your catalogue.
Next: I’ll be posting a detailed section by section analysis of the information architect and what goes where.