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Nov 18 2020
Nov 18

From the consumer perspective, there’s never been a better time to build a website. User-friendly website platforms like Squarespace allow amateur developers to bypass complex code and apply well-designed user interfaces to their digital projects. Modern site-building tools aren’t just easy to use—they’re actually fun.

For anyone who has managed a Drupal website, you know the same can’t be said for your platform of choice. While rich with possibilities, the default editorial interface for Drupal feels technical, confusing, and even restrictive to users without a developer background. Consequently, designers and developers too often build a beautiful website while overlooking its backend CMS.

Drupal’s open-ended capabilities constitute a competitive advantage when it comes to developing an elegant, customer-facing website. But a lack of attention to the needs of those who maintain your website content contributes to a perception that Drupal is a developer-focused platform. By building a backend interface just as focused on your site editors as the frontend, you create a more empowering environment for internal teams. In the process, your website performs that much better as a whole.

UX principles matter for backend design as much as the frontend

Given Drupal’s inherent flexibilities, there are as many variations of CMS interfaces as there are websites on the platform. That uniqueness is part of what makes Drupal such a powerful tool, but it also constitutes a weakness.

The editorial workflow for every website is different, which opens an inevitable training gap in translating your site’s capabilities to your editorial team. Plus, despite Drupal’s open-source strengths, you’ll likely need to reinvent the wheel when designing CMS improvements specific to your organization.

For IT managers, this is a daunting situation because the broad possibilities of Drupal are often overwhelming. If you try to make changes to your interface, you can be frustrated when a seemingly easy fix requires 50 hours of development work. Too often, Drupal users will wind up working with an inefficient and confusing CMS because they’re afraid of the complexity that comes with building out a new interface.

Fortunately, redesigning your CMS doesn’t have to be a demanding undertaking. With the right expertise, you can develop custom user interfaces with little to no coding required. Personalized content dashboards and defined roles and permissions for each user go a long way toward creating a more intuitive experience.

Improving your backend design is often seen as an additional effort, but think of it as a baseline requirement. And, by sharing our user stories within the Drupal community, we also build a path toward improving the platform for the future.

Use Drupal’s Views module to customize user dashboards

One of the biggest issues with Drupal’s out-of-the-box editorial tools is that they don’t reflect the way any organization actually uses the CMS. Just as UX designers look to provide a positive experience for first-time visitors to your site, your team should aim for delivering a similarly strong first impression for those managing its content.

By default, Drupal takes users to their profile pages upon login, which is useful to . . . almost no one. Plus, the platform’s existing terminology uses cryptic terms such as “node,” “taxonomy,” and “paragraphs” to describe various content items. From the beginning, you should remove these abstract references from your CMS. Your editorial users shouldn’t have to understand how the site is built to own its content.

Powering Our Communities homepage

In the backend, every Drupal site has a content overview page, which shows the building blocks of your site. Offering a full list that includes cryptic timestamps and author details, this page constitutes a floodgate of information. Designing an effective CMS is as much an exercise in subtraction as addition. Whether your user’s role involves reviewing site metrics or new content, their first interaction with your CMS should display what they use most often.

Manage News interface

If one population of users is most interested in the last item they modified, you can transform their login screen to a custom dashboard to display those items. If another group of users works exclusively with SEO, you can create an interface that displays reports and other common tasks. Using Drupal’s Views module, dashboards like these are possible with a few clicks and minimal coding.

By tailoring your CMS to specific user habits, you allow your website teams to find what they need and get to work faster. The most dangerous approach to backend design is to try and build one interface to rule them all.

Listen to your users and ease frustrations with a CMS that works

Through Drupal Views, you can modify lists of content and various actions to control how they display in your CMS. While Views provides many options to create custom interfaces, your users themselves are your organization’s most vital resource. By watching how people work on your site, you can recognize areas where your CMS is falling short.

Drupal content dashboard

Even if you’ve developed tools that aimed to satisfy specific use cases, you might be surprised the way your tools are used. Through user experience testing, you’ll often find the workarounds your site editors have developed to manage the site.

In one recent example, site editors needed to link to a site page within the CMS. Without that functionality, they would either find the URL by viewing the source code in another tab and copying its node ID number. Anyone watching these users would find their process cumbersome, time-consuming, and frustrating. Fortunately, there’s a Drupal module called Linkit that was implemented to easily eliminate this needless effort.

There are many useful modules in the Drupal ecosystem that can enhance the out-of-the-box editorial experience. Entity Clone expedites the content creation process. Views Bulk Operations and Bulk Edit simplify routine content update tasks. Computed Field and Automatic Entity Label take the guesswork out of derived or dependent content values. Using custom form modes and Field Groups can help bring order and streamline the content creation forms.

Most of the time, your developers don’t know what solutions teams have developed to overcome an ineffective editorial interface. And, for fear of the complexity required to create a solution, these supposed shortcuts too often go unresolved. Your backend users may not even be aware their efforts could be automated or otherwise streamlined. As a result, even the most beautiful, user-friendly website is bogged down by a poorly designed CMS.

Once these solutions are implemented, however, you and your users enjoy a shared win. And, through sharing your efforts with the Drupal community, you and your team build a more user-friendly future for the platform as well.

Sep 23 2020
Sep 23

Working in digital design and development, you grow accustomed to the rapid pace of technology. For example: After much anticipation, the latest version of Drupal was released this summer. Just months later, the next major version is in progress.

At July’s all-virtual DrupalCon Global, the open-source digital experience conference, platform founder Dries Buytaert announced Drupal 10 is aiming for a June 2022 release. Assuming those plans hold, Drupal 9 would have the shortest release lifetime of any recent major version.

For IT managers, platform changes generate stress and uncertainty. Considering the time-intensive migration process from Drupal 7 to 8, updating your organization’s website can be costly and complicated. Consequently, despite a longtime absence of new features, Drupal 7 still powers more websites than Drupal 8 and 9 combined. And, as technology marches on, the end of its life as a supported platform is approaching.

Fortunately, whatever version your website is running, Drupal is not running away from you. Drupal’s users and site builders may be accustomed to expending significant resources to update their website platform, but the plan for more frequent major releases alleviates the stress of the typical upgrade. And, for those whose websites are still on Drupal 7, Drupal 10 will continue offering a way forward.

The news that Drupal 10 is coming sooner rather than later might have been unexpected, but you still have no reason to panic just yet. However, your organization shouldn’t stand still, either.

Image via Dri.es

The End for Drupal 7 Is Still Coming, but Future Upgrades Will Be Easier

Considering upgrading to Drupal 8 involves the investment of building a new site and migrating its content, it’s no wonder so many organizations have been slow to update their platform. Drupal 7 is solid and has existed for nearly 10 years. And, fortunately, it’s not reaching its end of life just yet.

At the time of Drupal 9’s release, Drupal 7’s planned end of life was set to arrive late next year. This meant the community would no longer release security advisories or bug fixes for that version of the platform. Affected organizations would need to contact third-party vendors for their support needs. With the COVID-19 pandemic upending businesses and their budgets, the platform’s lifespan has been extended to November 28, 2022.

Drupal’s development team has retained its internal migration system through versions 8 and 9, and it remains part of the plan for the upcoming Drupal 10 as well. And the community continues to maintain and improve the system in an effort to make the transition easier. If your organization is still on Drupal 7 now, you can use the migration system to jump directly to version 9, or version 10 upon its release. Drupal has no plans to eliminate that system until Drupal 7 usage numbers drop significantly.

Once Drupal 10 is ready for release, Drupal 7 will finally reach its end of life. However, paid vendors will still offer support options that will allow your organization to maintain a secure website until you’re ready for an upgrade. But make a plan for that migration sooner rather than later. The longer you wait for this migration, the more new platform features you’ll have to integrate into your rebuilt website.

Initiatives for Drupal 10 Focus on Faster Updates, Third-Party Software

In delivering his opening keynote for DrupalCon Global, Dries Buytaert outlined five strategic goals for the next iteration of the platform. Like the work for Drupal 9 that began within the Drupal 8 platform, development of Drupal 10 has begun under the hood of version 9.

A Drupal 10 Readiness initiative focuses on upgrading third-party components that count as technological dependencies. One crucial component is Symfony, which is the PHP framework Drupal is based upon. Symfony operates on a major release schedule every two years, which requires that Drupal is also updated to stay current. The transition from Symfony 2 to Symfony 3 created challenges for core developers in creating the 8.4 release, which introduced changes that impacted many parts of Drupal’s software.

To avoid a repeat of those difficulties, it was determined that the breaking changes involved in a new Symfony major release warranted a new Drupal major release as well. While Drupal 9 is on Symfony 4, the Drupal team hopes to launch 10 on Symfony 6, which is a considerable technical challenge for the platform’s team of contributors. However, once complete, this initiative will extend the lifespan of Drupal 10 to as long as three or four years.

Other announced initiatives included greater ease of use through more out-of-the-box features, a new front-end theme, creating a decoupled menu component written in JavaScript, and, in accordance with its most requested feature, automated security updates that will make it as easy as possible to upgrade from 9 to 10 when the time comes. For those already on Drupal 9, these are some of the new features to anticipate in versions 9.1 through 9.4.

Less Time Between Drupal Versions Means an Easier Upgrade Path

The shift from Drupal 8 to this summer’s release of Drupal 9 was close to five years in the making. Fortunately for website managers, that update was a far cry from the full migration required from version 7. While there are challenges such as ensuring your custom code is updated to use the most recent APIs, the transition was doable with a good tech team at your side.

Still, the work that update required could generate a little anxiety given how comparatively fast another upgrade will arrive. But the shorter time frame will make the move to Drupal 10 easier for everybody. Less time between updates also translates to less deprecated code, especially if you’re already using version 9. But if you’re not there yet, the time to make a plan is now.

Jan 23 2020
Jan 23

Solutions exist to make working in Drupal 7 more like working in Drupal 8. Use this three-part approach to have fun with Drupal 7 development.

The post Make Drupal 7 Development Fun appeared first on Four Kitchens.

Jan 28 2019
Jan 28

Begin with the end in mind—defining our goals

Our collaboration with South Dakota State University’s (SDSU) outreach arm, SDSU Extension, began by defining the user experience and branding issues that the previous site had. The visual design was in need of an update, the team wanted to make information easier for people to find, and mobile users were forced to view the desktop version of the site.

With these issues defined, we put together a series of goals that fell into two major groups—user experience and branding. For the user experience goals, we defined a user-centered approach to ensure that the work we were doing was going to help people using the site engage more with the site and more easily find what they were looking for. For the branding goals, we wanted an improved, modern look and feel that felt like a part of the larger South Dakota State University brand.

Creating a palette to work from (e.g. creating Style Tiles)

Every design project at Four Kitchens starts with a visual alignment in the form of style tiles, a design deliverable showing colors, fonts, and elements that helps create a common visual language for the project.

These are presented to everyone using InVision Freehand so that as we discuss the options we can add notes directly on the style tiles. For SDSU Extension we had two rounds of style tiles, landing quickly on one that we all agreed was the right direction.

Figuring out what we’ll need (e.g. wire-framing all the things)

Design systems are all the rage in the industry and with good reason. They allow projects to move more quickly by having a library of reusable parts that are ready to go. So at this point in the process for SDSU Extension, it was time to define what those parts needed to be.

We did this by reviewing the current site and discovery document to suss out what was going to be important for the new site. As a group—Four Kitchens and SDSU Extension—had discussions to detail what sorts of things would be vital and what would be nice-to-haves.

From there we worked up a series of wireframes that showed both a component library—a page with every possible thing on it, like cards, quotes, and video callouts—and a few samples of how the new pages could be assembled from these parts.

This process worked out the kinks for trickier components, like the many-level deep navigation on mobile while minimizing effort. The cycle of posting, review, and implementing feedback was quick leading us to a final collection of wireframes.

Making it come to life (e.g. comps)

As soon as wireframes were approved we moved into the next step—breathing life into them. We took the visual language that was defined in the style tile and applied it to the wireframes. The designs included all of the components at small, medium, and large screen sizes.

These components were then quickly assembled into mock pages to show what they would look like when the site was done. Having a wealth of work already done in the form of style tiles and wireframes, we hit on the right direction quickly. Once the first few comps were finalized there was a flood of comps as we built them out faster and faster using previously approved components.

A great collaboration

Working with SDSU Extension on this project was marvelous and we’re happy that it is live and shared with the rest of the world.

Jul 26 2018
Jul 26

Intro In this post, I’m going to run through how I set up visual regression testing on sites. Visual regression testing is essentially the act of taking a screenshot of a web page (whether the whole page or just a specific element) and comparing that against an existing screenshot of the same page to see […]

The post Visual Regression Testing appeared first on Four Kitchens.

About Drupal Sun

Drupal Sun is an Evolving Web project. It allows you to:

  • Do full-text search on all the articles in Drupal Planet (thanks to Apache Solr)
  • Facet based on tags, author, or feed
  • Flip through articles quickly (with j/k or arrow keys) to find what you're interested in
  • View the entire article text inline, or in the context of the site where it was created

See the blog post at Evolving Web

Evolving Web