Mark Boulton to help with Drupal 7

Drupal's steep learning curve filters out far too many smart, motivated people who could benefit from Drupal. We see it all the time in the Drupal.org forums, in my "State of Drupal" surveys, on Twitter, when talking to customers, and on the web. Even though we've made significant progress with making Drupal easier to use, a lot of work is left to be done. With other content management systems such as Joomla! and WordPress making strides to catch up to Drupal in terms of development flexibility, if we want Drupal to remain competitive, we have a challenge we have to face: we need to create a user experience that makes it easier for people new to Drupal to discover all of its richness and power.

With the success of the drupal.org redesign in mind, I wondered if it would be possible for Mark Boulton and Leisa Reichelt of Mark Boulton Design (MBD) to help us improve usability in Drupal itself. They have done a tremendous job with the drupal.org designs that are currently being implemented, but why stop there?

Since one of Acquia's key goals is to help expand Drupal adoption, and improving Drupal's usability is key to that, I thought it would be right for Acquia to finance Mark and Leisa to help us work on Drupal 7, for a couple of months, too. The consensus among my colleagues was that hiring Mark and Leisa would be a both great way to help Drupal conquer the world, and a really good contribution Acquia could make to the Drupal community.

Mark and Leisa were both instantly excited about continuing their work with the community. Starting in March, they will spend time working on making Drupal 7 easier to use. We've asked them to do all their work out in the open, in the Drupal community, just like they did with the Drupal.org redesign, so that the community can be involved and give input every step of the way. We have also encouraged Mark to dare to envision wide-ranging, far-reaching usability improvements, rather than incremental usability changes on the status quo. This is a great chance for us to all collectively think "outside the box" about how great Drupal's user experience could be.

Both Mark and I have been in contact with key members of the Drupal usability group. They are going to be deeply involved in this effort by including Mark and Leisa in their planning and by giving feedback, guidance, and assistance. As a starting point, we've pointed Mark to the existing Drupal usability reports, and he has already been brainstorming with some members of Drupal's usability team about what aspects to work on and how to work together. Mark and Leisa will not be able to start before March, but it's important that this work starts as early as possible.

However, beautiful usability improvements are no good to anyone unless they have code behind them. Therefore, in addition to paying MBD, Acquia will also contribute a signficant amount of our own internal engineering time to the implementation of the mockups and ideas produced by Mark and Leisa. Their suggestions will be posted as patches to the drupal.org issue queue for community review, input, and refinement and Acquia will dedicate two or three full-time engineers to help implement suggestions from MDB and the usability team. It is too early to tell who exactly these engineers will be, but probably a combination of Gábor Hojtsy, David Rothstein, Barry Jaspan, and Paul Lovvik (our Javascript wizard). Jeff Noyes, Acquia's UX designer, is going to participate as well, so we'll have a world-class team at work. We also hope that others will join us as partners in realizing these improvements, because alongside MBD and a few Acquia engineers, the more people from the Drupal community that collaborate and contribute to the effort, the better Drupal 7 will be for us all.

Now that we have Mark and Leisa, leaders from the Drupal usability group, and Acquia on board, we're finally ready to publicly announce this initiative and to proceed in an open and transparent way, involving everyone in the Drupal community. Mark and Leisa bring a lot of Drupal expertise to the table; they are armed with use data and test driven methodologies; they have a track record of working well with our community, so I think we're set up for success. This is an opportunity to get the community fired up about usability, and to bring more outside design and usability expertise into the project. And with your help, this should be a pretty awesome move for Drupal 7! :-)

Comments

Posted on by Omar Khan.

I think it is great that more effort is going into making Drupal more usable to non-engineers. Personally I think that Drupal's adoption by a wider community depends on teaching people how to use it and what it can do; for me this is much more important than a new version of Drupal. Drupal 6 is already an amazing platform.

A good place to begin might be with solid documentation. I think that motivated users are happy to use online documentation to help solve problems they face on a specific site build or issue. The Drupal 6 documentation still appears very limited. I wonder if that could be beefed up, or even whether a new approach to documentation might not be useful on the Drupal.org re-design. Maybe a search-able database of How do I do XXX with community responses and the best answers getting prizes weekly or monthly. It might be less expensive for Acquia - which I thank for all its contributions - to finance prizes than take on work directly.