It's no secret that Drupal isn't exactly the easiest piece of software to use.
Compared to other options like Wordpress, it’s much more difficult to learn, and the learning curve can be incredibly steep for users looking to harness some of the more-advanced functionality.
One of the complaints about Drupal is that while it has an incredible amount of customization and features, it’s really hard for staff members to jump in and use it without a decent amount of training or some prior technical know-how.
However, Drupal is doing something about this. There is a movement in the Drupal community called the Drupal 8 user experience (UX) initiative.
Before we jump into the specifics of the initiative and what it will mean for Drupal users and nonprofits, let’s first understand what UX means and why it’s important.
UX matters (a lot)
UX is a branch of web work that focuses on making sure a website or piece of software is intuitive, easy to use, and provides you with a pleasant experience while you’re using it.
This discipline generally involves looking at the architecture/layout of the page, the interface, the buttons, and collectively saying, “Okay, how confusing is this for the average person? How can we make this easier and more intuitive so that when you go to this page you don’t have to stop and think? How do we make layout and design of the application intuitively direct you to where you need to go?”
It’s something that’s rooted in both art and science, but with the intent of making things not just functional but also usable. It’s the difference between driving in the snow with a rear-wheel drive car versus a 4x4.
Drupal will embrace UX with this new initiative
Historically, UX hasn’t played a major part in Drupal. Drupal was developed primarily by and for developers--it was functional, but not always pretty or intuitive. People who were doing user interface or design work were in some ways second-class citizens in the Drupal community for a long time. On the other hand, the inverse has mostly been true with Wordpress; it hasn’t always been known for being as developer-friendly or robust as Drupal, but it was built by designers and was simple to use.
The Drupal community has recognized that this is a mature piece of software and one of its greatest drawbacks is user experience (or lack thereof). It’s probably the biggest barrier to further growth and adoption.
So they have formed the Drupal UX initiative to push for an improved interface and experience.
The UX initiative is essentially a commitment from the Drupal community to get serious about making Drupal easier to use for both new people and existing users. As a community, Drupal is trying to attract user experience professionals and people who can identify specific things about the user interface that aren’t intuitive and outline what we need to do to make Drupal easier to use. It could be tiny interface changes such as changing the color of a button from blue to green so it’s clearer what that button does, or it could be sweeping changes in terms of how you add fields to content types or how content forms are organized.
This is something that was talked about by Dries Buytaert (the creator of Drupal) at this year’s Drupalcon and it’s something that’s on the forefront of the Drupal community’s mind--it’s coming from the bottom and from the top. It’s time for change.
Drupal UX initiative and nonprofits
While nonprofits are not the only organizations affected by the coming improvements to Drupal, I see the opportunity for this to make a big difference for NPOs in particular. Drupal is, after all, a popular choice among nonprofits (in part because it’s free), so having it be easier to use could dramatically change some organizations for the better.
Nonprofits will see big changes in a few key ways:
1. Managing Drupal websites will be easier
The most obvious one is that things will be easier. Yay for that--no one likes to do things that should be simple but end up being difficult.
Ultimately, staff are going to have an easier time using Drupal websites because it’s going to take less time for them to figure out where they need to go and what they need to do. It’s going to cost less money to train them because they’ll be able to figure things out more intuitively.
2. Staff will be more effective and efficient
Your staff will actually want to use Drupal, which I think is a big deal. Subconsciously, when you dread using a piece of software, or you know that it’s going to be an unpleasant experience, you’re going to avoid using it. So, for example, if you don’t enjoy writing in the Drupal editor, you may choose to write in Word instead. Or maybe you’re going to publish something on Medium instead of publishing on Drupal. I think that’s a really important point to note, if only because people will gravitate toward software that they like using, even if it’s not the most effective.
So maybe your staff isn’t using your Drupal site to its fullest potential. Maybe they’re not using it effectively because they don’t enjoy using it at all. Making Drupal more usable is going to have a much larger impact on nonprofits than just reduced training costs--in many more subtle ways it’s going to make nonprofit organizations more efficient, it’s going to make staff members better at their jobs, and it’s going to decrease the complexity of processes.
Maybe you’ll use less software and get rid of systems being used to shore up weakness in Drupal.
3. Staff will be happier
The Drupal UX initiative will help with employee retention, too. If your staff are spending all day on the website and they hate using it, it feeds into overall dissatisfaction and turnover. If they’re already unhappy with other things in your organization, it could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and they might want to go elsewhere.
Because we know that nonprofit turnover is really high, it’s important to understand that if someone’s day-to-day job is working on the website, but they hate doing it because it’s hard to use, then that could be a really serious issue that affects turnover. Ultimately, I think the Drupal UX initiative is going to help keep employees happier and help retain them longer.
4. Hiring will be easier
Simultaneously, this will help you attract and retain top, young talent that expects a certain level of usability from your software and a certain level of technology proficiency as a whole from your organization. If you are trying to attract really great, young talent to your organization but you’re presenting them with a piece of software that’s really outdated or hard to use, and using this software will be their job, what do you think they’re going to do when they’re offered an opportunity to join an organization that’s employing a more user-friendly piece of software?
With Drupal being easier to use, it will make your organization more attractive to the young talent you’re trying to recruit or may already have as a part of your organization.
5. Your organization will do more good
All this ultimately translates into more impact for your organization.
You’ll have more staff, happier staff, and more efficient staff, all of whom will be able to use your website more effectively. All of those factors ultimately translate to the impact that your organization has. If your staff can do their jobs better then your organization has more impact, and that’s really what you want--to do more good.
The future of Drupal UX
That leaves us with the nuts and bolts of when this will actually be ready. Drupal obviously isn’t like this right now, so I think it’s important to note that this is a work in progress. This isn’t a release that’s going to come out in two weeks or a month. This is an ongoing improvement that the Drupal community is making. It’s more of a direction than an event.
However, this also means it won’t be a one-time change, but a continuous process of improvement that will carry Drupal into the future.
Drupal 8 is scheduled to release new versions every six months, so that means about twice per year (if you’re on Drupal 8) you should be see incremental improvements to how the user interface works. That’s yet another reason to consider moving to Drupal 8 if you haven’t already. If you’re on Drupal 7, you’re not going to able to see these changes.
The velocity of these UX improvements is also likely to increase. While there was some momentum behind this idea before Drupalcon this past summer, the event introduced the initiative to the broader Drupal community and will likely accelerate progress moving forward.
All this is to say that Drupal will continue to get better. And as it improves, it will become an even better solution for nonprofits looking to build robust and hard-working websites. Not only will it have all of the advanced features and integrations that Drupal users have come to know and enjoy (and there are a ton of them), but it will also be more user friendly, even for those without a strong technical background.
That sounds pretty great in my book.