When you have been using a software application like joomla for as long as I have certain things become second nature.
But it is only when you see a newcomer struggle to work out what to do that you truly appreciate that there is room for improvement.
Don't Make Me Think - says Steve Krug
The real test for the usability of any application (or web site) is to put it in front of a group of people and give them some simple tasks. Record how successful, or not, they are and listen to their feedback. And then the most important step - Act on the feedback
As should be obvious to regular readers of this blog I spend alot of time teaching newcomers how to create a site with Joomla. So everyday I am faced with answering some of the same questions and looking back at some very confused faces. In fact I often resort to blocking out half the screen so they don't get scared by all the options that they don't understand and most likely will never need or use.
I read an excellent book recently and each chapter was summarised with a small paragraph
The Least You Need To Do
Perhaps if we look at Joomla and try to re-imagine the current User Interface in two separate modes.
- Mode 1. The minimum you have to do
- mode 2. As it is now - for the user wanting more control
Let's look at some simple tasks in Joomla and consider what could be done to make them more "usable".
- Creating a Section or Category
The least you need to do is to give them a name and save
- Creating an Article
The least you need to do is to give it a title, put it in a category, write the text and save
Now let's consider some of the most frequent tasks new users attempt and think about all the steps you have to go through to achieve them.
- Create an article and add it to a menu (note there was a quick way to do this in joomla 1.0)
- Create an article and then create another (why not have a save and new button)
- Preview an article as it will actually appear on the site ie with the template etc
OK so you now realise that there are far too any steps involved there - I hope.
The next area we should really be looking at is where do we find things from the administrator home page.
- Are they in the most logical place?
- Should all components be lumped together, some are only there for admin functions and not for content functions
- Is the real estate given to the quick icons justified. Some I use some I never use
How can we resolve these issues
- Conduct real world usability tests based on a set of common tasks and really observe what a wide range of users experience.
- Provide two views to many screens, Simple and Advanced, and allow the choice to be assigned to a user.
- Currently in modules and plugins there is no option for a developer to group, collapse and hide parameters as they can with a component. Adding that functionality will quickly and easily allow developers to move some of the more complex options out of the way.
- Follow the example of CQI and let users customise the control panel
- Create a new top menu for administrative functions and let developers place their components (eg a backup component) there if they wish
What are the stumbling blocks
There really are none. It's all just a question of deciding to do it. I know that personally I have been talking about many of these things since before Mambo 4.5 but as I am not a developer all I can do is to talk, encourage and then hope. I cannot force a developer to write the code to achieve a more usable joomla.
But hopefully as the marketplace has matured there are more people willing to voice these opinions and they have the coding skills to bring them to fruition.
Remember the code can be beautiful but if it is not usable it is wasted effort.
[Read this blog post in dutch at www.joomlacommunity.eu]