Should Drupal add (another) JS framework into core? Not in the name of UX.

There has been a conversation going on in the Drupal community on which Javascript framework should be added into core. Dries started the conversation with the post Should we decouple Drupal with a client-side framework?. One of the key reasons is to improve the administrative user interface.

As user experiences evolve from static pages to application-like experiences, end users' expectations of websites have become increasingly demanding. The Facebook newsfeed, the Gmail inbox, and the Twitter live stream are all compelling examples that form a baseline for the application-like experiences users now take for granted.

Many of Drupal's administrative interfaces and Drupal sites could benefit from a similarly seamless, instantaneous user experience.

The argument here is that people expect flashy whizz-bang user interfaces and slick user experiences, so let's skip the horse, the cart, go down the road, around the corner, call a taxi, and now let's decide which framework we should use to achieve that.

The big problem with this process relates to User Experience Design. No one is even discussing what we would try and build and how it would work. We advise our clients to understand their problem and their users before spending time solutioneering, this is twelve levels deeper than that.

Drupal has a development driven culture, it always has. I'm not surprised people are more interested in debating the framework of the week instead of looking at the problems it could be solving.

nod_ has taken time to shift the conversation a few steps back, to actually look at the problems this framework would solve. This is still putting the cart in front of the horse.

You can translate “Investigate where and how a frontend framework could be used” into “Let's grab our hammers and start looking for nails”.

Confirmation bias:

In psychology and cognitive science, confirmation bias (or confirmatory bias) is a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one's preconceptions, leading to statistical errors.

We are asking the community to start searching through Drupal's admin interface for areas where a JS framework could benefit. If asked to; I can also go through Drupal's admin interface looking for areas that could benefit from a telephone service.

That's actually not a bad idea.

What are our critical user experience issues?

When we advise our clients, we get them to focus on problems, user context, understanding, then solutions.

Last year we ran a usability study on Drupal 8. What were the biggest problems we found?

  1. Drupal uses weird words for everything. “Compared to Wordpress you don't have to figure out how to place your block inside your view inside your region inside your homepage.”

  2. Wayfinding, or clues on how to get started, were lacking.

  3. Users expect a much more fleshed-out basic install. It make Drupal appear limited in functionality.

  4. When adding a field, the options under the field type drop-down describe the data you want to store, but the user is imagining the widget it would produce. ie. Radio buttons.

None of these problems are fixed by a Javascript library

We can spend weeks arguing over which framework to use. Then years overhauling the admin interface to take advantage of all the new bells and whistles. But most of our users still won't understand how to use Drupal. The effort to value ratio here is off the scale.

Drupal's User Experience problems go far deeper than code

At Drupalcon Barcelona, I presented on Drupal 8's user experience with Bojhan Somers and Angie Byron. In the second half of the presentation, we had an open and frank discussion about the big problems with Drupal's User Experience. You can start watching at the 32:25 mark.

The biggest problem with improving our user experience is process. As Angie mentions in the presentation:

How normal people improve their products using the Lean methodology is the cheapest way possible. Paper prototypes and things like that. Then they'll test out their solution on users. Then they'll ship really fast and see if it sticks.

We don't do things like that. We start by building elaborate cathedrals and putting them into core, where they have pass the usability gate and the accessibility gate and all these things.

Once we have finally gotten it thorough all these tests, then it has to survive the bikeshed gauntlet. That's how we measure, by how many core developers hate this thing. If the answer is more than one then we change the design which makes more people happy but actually reduces effectiveness of the original design.

Then we don't learn, because we don't talk to users. We just throw it out there with a major release. Instead of this build measure loop we just build in a horrible spiral.

It feels like the Drupal community is trying to catch up with the modern startup trends by looking at the code instead of the process. That's why Twitter, Gmail, Facebook, and Wordpress are so successful. They build, learn, iterate. Not because they rebuild on a trendy framework every so often.

Playing the “User Experience” card as an excuse to keep building and re-building on new frameworks is missing the point.