17 usability tips to make your CMS rock

    To your attention is a translation of an article by Patrick Kennedy about what should be a convenient content management system .

    It is more than likely that there will be many usability problems in your CMS if you use it raw. Participating in projects in which I was entrusted with the implementation of such systems - website management systems, intranet portals and wikis, I noticed that their user interfaces have a number of key areas that need to be fixed in terms of ease of use.

    All usability recommendations that you see here are based on general principles of use and can be applied to any software and web applications, because it is obvious that most CMS solutions have such problems.

    Use these tips to improve an existing CMS or to introduce a new one.

    1. If in doubt, do not use. The

    user interface should be deprived of all that the user does not need to solve his tasks. The potential of most CMS products exceeds what is actually used, and you should not demonstrate it if the user does not need it. Many products have many additional features, but your version of the product should not ring all the bells about it. For better or worse, some manufacturers are inserting a module into the system to develop missing features (possibly to stimulate additional sales). Do not show it if the user does not need it.

    Use CSS to hide some details, clean the interface. We are talking about basic navigation, links, and irrelevant system elements. Here it’s worth recalling the words of Steve Krug: “The third law of Krug’s usability: get rid of half the words on each page, and then get rid of half of what’s left.” Each page name, subheadings, buttons, navigation icons, forms, icons and graphics should be useful, meaningful and clearly communicate with the user.

    2. Protect users from system complexities.

    Your CMS can be arbitrarily complex and powerful, but the user should not care. The user interface should be abstracted from the internal functioning of the system and act as a translator between the tasks of the user and the functionality that solves them.

    Do not engage users in the internal operation of the system by informing them of the “asset model”, data structure, and other things from “underground storage”. All these are just the ways in which the system solves the user's tasks. Users do not need to know about them, this is only confusing. That the interface was built by "developers for developers" should remain your secret.

    Manifestations of this can often be seen in error messages and system terminology. And in the process, the user has to go through a winding path of unnecessary information, even when performing elementary tasks. For example, a common problem in many CMS products is to do double work or duplication, when the user is forced to move forward or backward from one part of the system to another to complete the task.

    3. Speak a user language. The user

    interface is based on communication. You must ensure clear communication, using terminology that is understandable to the user, and in ways that allow him to take the necessary measures and continue the action. This work is done by navigation, notifications and messages, buttons, forms. It goes without saying that the jargon and internal system technical dialogue should remain out of the user's sight (although it is possible to use business jargon specific to a particular organization, see recommendation 10).

    Identify the language that should be used, you will help the relevant research, publishing of "Defense for web design: how to improve error messages, help, forms and other critical points" from37signals gives great tips on creating error messages, notifications, etc.

    4. Know your real user.

    What the hell, let's find out who we are creating the system for. Who are the end users? Most likely, these are not techies, not developers, and not system administrators. Shame on them, because they do not know how to improve the database or scale the architecture. In fact, they should not care how it all works.

    Of course, developers and system administrators can be users of the system, but they are unlikely to make up the majority. The end users will be copywriters, product managers, sales people, editors ... human beings (well, maybe, excluding sales people :).

    Do a little research to find out how, when, and why these users use the system. Talk to them, look at them, analyze. This will be helpful in designing and will help you decide how to apply our tips.

    5. Do not forget the real goals.

    The CMS abbreviation consists of three words, one of which is much less important than the other two: S. Do not get captured by the system and do not forget about the true goals of managing content and creating it. That is why users use the system!

    When designing and creating a system, you must take this into account in every detail. The purpose of the system is not scalability, data synchronization, referential integrity or network security. All this is only a means to an end, and they must remain behind the scenes. Technicians should be focused on these things, and okay, because this is their duty and the meaning of their existence. That is why, when working on a project, a sane person is needed who understands that the user's work should not concern these technical aspects, and it is a matter of creating and managing the content.

    6. Realize individual tasks really well.

    In the course of getting to know the users of the system, you should analyze and find out what are the most important tasks they perform. Set priorities by focusing on these key tasks, and implement them in a truly high-quality way. Configure the interface, automate some functions to simplify the process, no matter what it costs, but simplify the solution of these tasks for users as much as possible. Let them start tackling them right from the home page.

    For websites with high traffic and a lot of content, the main task may be the formation of this content. In addition, for a very large site with tens of thousands of pages, a key activity may be to search the content. In this case, make the search truly high-quality, perhaps by organizing the structure of the system around the search.

    7. Use real mapping where possible

    In the case of CMS, natural mapping is when the user interface mimics the action being performed. A good example is the placement of editing elements on a web page. Typically, in CMS this is achieved using input forms (unless you use “in-place editing”). But this is not a natural display, because the form does not bear any resemblance to the finished product. It may seem trivial to you, but rearranging the form fields on the editing page in accordance with the same parts on the finished page will make their creation easier. Or create a visual map that illustrates how each form field is connected in the real world. Or maybe just creating a shortcut for each field also makes sense :)

    A good user interface reflects a mental user model, not a system model.

    Another example is the use of thumbnails. These can be pictures when searching, in lists or when viewing properties. It is much easier to determine the content of the visual attributes that will be published in the final product when, for example, it is clear what the image looks like, what is the name of the text or the name of the page.

    8. Be consistent. The
    user interface should be consistent from page to page, from component to component. This applies to navigation, buttons, forms, text style, link style, layout, terminology and feedback mechanisms (for example, notification windows or yellow fade technology).

    This is especially important in cases where some parts have been customized, and, as a rule, differ significantly in appearance. Transferring such a "Frankenstein" into use is a reliable way to provide the system with confusion, which will not contribute to the perception and adoption of the new system by the user. The user must feel - this is a quality product.

    9. Remember that

    CMS compliance must not only be consistent in itself, it must also be compatible and consistent with what users are likely to expect from other similar systems. CMS is a web application, and website standards require the placement of a search box, the use of controls, such as a drop-down menu, as well as a single click on the link. While Rich Internet Applicationsbecoming more common, new standards appear, but this is not a reason for amateur performance. Functionality may be lost due to non-traditional methods of interaction (for example, using the right mouse button or double-clicking on a link) and will not be obvious, since it does not meet the user's expectations.

    10. Redesign the system for specific conditions.

    The principle of consistency also applies to creating a CMS that works similar to other tools and applications used by users in their standard operating environment. Integration with these tools will be very useful, whether it is providing easy copying of content from a text editor to the CMS, or ensuring the CMS works in standard browsers, or perhaps creating a single login for the organization so that users do not have to log in to the CMS separately.

    Redesigning CMS can also mean the consistent implementation of their own design and branding, as a result of which users will feel “their own” for CMS and will go a long way in adopting a new system (creating an emotional investment).

    This adaptation should also include the removal of unnecessary elements (recommendation 1), simplification of the interface (recommendation 2), especially in relation to key tasks (tip 6), simplification of the communication language (recommendation 3). For example, if the specific goal is the CMS for the intranet portal, then the user interface should be adapted to the intranet, and not to a website whose terminology was inherited “out of the box”.

    11. Create an effective start page.

    Home, or start page, page or admin panel for CMS is a great tool if it is well designed and contains useful elements. Do not overload it with standard elements “out of the box”, better think about what users should see when they first log into the system.

    Use this page to provide unhindered access to solving key tasks, in order of priority of all system capabilities, and paying special attention to the main tasks (they should be displayed in a larger size, at the top of the page, and possibly with icons). Less commonly used or less important functions may appear smaller and be located lower on the page if you decide to show them all.

    At this stage, you should take care of streamlining the login process. If CMS allows you to edit several sites, but a specific user edits only one of them, do not let him select it from the list each time he logs on to the site.

    In addition, think about abandoning the administrative panel or the main page and generally send the user directly to the most general task (if any), with the ability to go to the main page when he needs it.

    12. Create high-quality forms.

    The main data entry method in most CMS products is forms. And, as a rule, they are not very convenient. Your forms should be well designed, with a logical structure, understandable designations, due diligence and a clear call to action. As noted in recommendation 7, a form close to the final product is much easier to use and understand. Great tips on creating forms gives Luke Wrublewski - Web Form Design .

    13. Get the designer involved

    Do not leave the user interface design to developers who create and install the system. Even if they possess the necessary skills for developing the interface, they will not be able to keep in sight the further development prospects, since they are too involved in the routine details when developing the CMS. Even experienced usability practitioners find it difficult to keep the end users in view; they are too focused on the technical complexities of creating the system.

    Most companies do not think about using their graphic designers or usability as a tool on the way to the final product. But they underestimate the importance of this tool, especially when it comes to a large site.

    14. Do not rely on training

    Learning how to use the system will not solve the convenience issues. Long after training sessions, problems will continue to arise if the interface is not intuitive and the system is complex. In the worst case, it will be difficult for even the teachers themselves to explain how the system works and how to use it, since they are trying to bridge the gap between the technical system and users.

    Although CMS training programs make life a little easier, in my opinion, they are rarely effective. Why not just spend time and money and make the system easy to use? And then everyone will be able to use it without training sessions and the need to repeat the past.

    15. Provide user assistance

    Training will not save a poorly designed system, but you must provide help to the user. These may be instructions explaining what and how users should do. They can demonstrate the learning process with the help of trainings or in the "beginner" mode, so that one day the user will feel comfortable when working with CMS.

    In addition to the instructions, help is needed in the process of working with content and solving user tasks. As with notifications and error messages, help should be helpful. It should not only contain hints about what users see on the user interface (for example, “this screen contains XYZ buttons”), but should also explain to them how to use certain functions, what to expect from them, and how to restore them, if something goes wrong.

    Of course, the way to reduce the need for reference materials is to develop an understandable interface in which it is obvious how to use it: high-quality shortcuts for navigation buttons, a clear visual hierarchy of pages and forms. The most advantageous position on the page or in the list is given to the most important points. The sequence in which the user must take actions should be evident at every step, thanks to clear accents and clear identification.

    16. Consider the developer interface

    In the process, you will come across frequent objections such as: "But this is useful ... for developers." And, of course, there are arguments in favor of this, because developers and other technical specialists will use the system together with ordinary users (although perhaps less). You can give them access to use all the system capabilities that will be needed to manage the CMS and the final product, without compromising the normal user interface. The appearance of the user interface may depend on its username.

    17. Do not release in semi-ready state.

    Often there is a desire to do something to a minimum, and later fix it all. That is, to release a raw product, and convenience will be "taken care of later." It is a bad idea. Firstly, when something does not work from the very beginning, your users are unlikely to experience a feeling of gratitude and trust in the new CMS. Secondly, troubleshooting in the future will require users to re-examine the system. Thirdly, this “later” is unlikely to happen, moreover, if buyers have already invested in the purchase / development of CMS, they naturally expect the result in the best possible way.

    All this does not exclude the possibility of continuous improvement of the system, including the user interface, but this means that the CMS should be usable and convenient from the moment of release. User needs must be taken into account when planning and developing CMS, they cannot be left for the end, otherwise you will never have enough time or resources to satisfy them.


    How important is all this? As long as the tool works, life around freezes, right? Oh no. The lack of usability will make the system difficult to learn for end users, and as a result, this will lead to a decrease in CMS sales, or an increase in unauthorized use.

    And these tips are just the foundation, the obvious things. They can help you improve the ease of administering your site, but it might be better to just choose a different, better system. Concentrate on the key things that you need to do, and do not get captured by the "features" or those functions that you will use only once. Make sure that the designed CMS takes into account the key points described in the scenarios for product evaluation . If you need to configure, in particular, the user interface, make sure that this happens easily and does not affect the possibility of future upgrades. Thus, independence should be maintained between the user interface and the system.

    If something is wrong with the translation - write, if there is no account on the hub - commenthere . If something is wrong - do not offend, this is my first publication on Habré.

    I hope you find this article useful.

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