UPDATE: For those visiting from Slate's article "Message Error" by Chris Wilson, please check out my rebuttal. Thanks!
As was discussed in my last blog post, one of the biggest complaints users have about Drupal is its usability, or lack thereof. This especially applies to new users and users who briefly gave Drupal a try and then opted for a more user-friendly CMS solution. While I acknowledge this shortcoming of Drupal, I believe that once one gets over the hump of learning the ins-and-outs of Drupal, the payoff is well worth the journey. For you newcomers to Drupal (or to those of you who tried it and gave up), I hope this post helps shed some light on the problem, what is being done about it, and how it affects you.
OK, so you’ve just installed Drupal... Now what? When faced with a fresh install of Drupal, many people say: "OK, what the heck do I do now?". It doesn’t look like there’s much to it -- no flashy icons, no slick buttons with polished-glass backgrounds, no sample content, no WYSIWYG editor (what-you-see-is-what-you-get editor, or Rich Text Editor... think of "Word toolbars for this web form's text box")... Just a bare-bones shell with a bunch of text links, and always in the top left corner, a blue water droplet with a smirk on his face, as if to say "OK, buddy, now try and figure me out." For some, this is no problem at all, for they are familiar with web technology and can easily adapt to the environment. For the majority, though, Drupal loses them at "hello world".
We've pretty much identified the problem: Drupal's administrative interface is so frugal and bare-bones to the point of detracting from its user-friendliness. I know I'm simplifying here a lot, as there are many facets to this problem. But rather than overwhelm ourselves, let's just look at one particular issue: Drupal's welcome screen. Have a look:
Not very exciting, is it? To someone like me who's set up a Drupal site before (countless times) it actually is exciting. It's a blank slate, and there's virtually infinite possibilities... But, to most people, this is not exciting at all, and doesn't do a good job of guiding them thru the process of setting up their new website. If you browse drupalusability.org, you'll see feedback that the relatively new Drupal Usability team has gathered from usability testing performed at the University of Baltimore earlier this year. Many participants felt that this page was somewhat anticlimactic and ineffective in successfully initiating them into the world of Drupal. If you spend the time to read this welcome page, it's pretty informative and actually points you in the right direction with text links. But, let's face it, reading gets boring, and furthermore, different people are creating different kinds of sites, so the four steps will not apply to everyone's needs.
So, how could this page be made better? Perhaps strategically placed icons? Perhaps a different layout? Perhaps customized messages depending on the type of site being created? Perhaps... well, what? That's one of the many things that the Drupal Usability team is working on... Drupal.org itself is even being redesigned with better usability and user experience in mind, and the progress is looking great.
Now, I don't think that Drupal should "bend over backwards" for people by dumbing things down or turning on more functionality by default. I don't want that at all, because what's great about Drupal is its leanness... However, I do think Drupal can do a better job of meeting people in the middle...
Here at DPCI, we work with our clients so that, well, they never see this welcome screen at all... We create Drupal sites that are customized and tailored to our clients' needs, so that by the time the site gets to them, everything's set up and all the "guess work" has been taken out of the equation.
I would love to hear what you have found difficult or confusing about Drupal. What do you think could be done differently to make the learning curve a little less steep? Leave a comment!