Is WordPress As Easy As We Think?

Published in WordPress.

Much has been said about the usability and user experience (UX) in the design and development of applications. I’m sure that when using “computing devices” you’ve found systems (or applications, websites, programs, etc.) that were easy to use and others that were very difficult.

In the WordPress community we’re very proud of WordPress‘ ease of use and congratulate ourselves for it when compared to other platforms with similar purposes. WordPress is much easier to use and manage. Very much!

It is so well known that even someone (I haven’t been able to trace the original reference) made the following image where we can see the learning curve of Drupal (perhaps the most common competitor of WordPress) compared to others. And as you see, one of the best systems in this funny comparison is WordPress:

Drupal learning curve compared to other content management systems.
Drupal learning curve compared to other content management systems.

However, my experience as a user and developer with WordPress has led me to think that this is perhaps not such a clear topic. Is WordPress really as easy to use as we are told?

At WordCamp Barcelona 2016, Núria Ramoneda indicated that we should make work easier for the forgotten users by developing a more usable backend for WordPress. But, are there forgotten users in WordPress? Who are these forgotten users? They are the people who are responsible for introducing, editing, reviewing, creating, or modifying content on the web. Is WordPress cutting off content creators?

Probably you should be thinking that both Núria (thanks for bringing such an interesting topic in a WordCamp 👏) and I (well, you’ve already seen the title of this post 😉) are exaggerating. In WordPress creating content is a child’s game. Even my grandma can be a blogger thanks to WordPress! Well, yes and no. Let me try to show you the problem with a real example.

This is a screenshot I made from the WordPress setup of one of our customers 😱 Scary, right? How do I write a blog post with an interface like this?

If you had to create a post with this user interface, would you know where to start?
If you had to create a post with this user interface, would you know where to start?

I am able to write the title of the post, but how do I write the content? Where is the text editor? Do I have to fill in all the custom fields? What about the other metaboxes? There are so many things to play with that I do not even know where to start … Damn, I’m in WordPress! This is WordPress, but it is not usable! How is it possible? 🤔

To avoid situations like the one here we should focus on the author experience more (AX or Author Experience). Remember that content creators may not have technical skills, and we shouldn’t expect them to. What’s more, it is very possible for a content creator to only know how to work with a pen, some paper, and nothing else. So facing an interface like that of the screenshot is a suicide. Also, the image they’re going to take from using WordPress is horrible. In my humble opinion, I think we are not doing enough to avoid this.

The author of the content has to be the central element in WordPress. And right now that’s not the case. We have a fairly correct separation of roles from the point of view of responsibilities, but in practice this doesn’t have much effect. If I am a user with the role of Author in WordPress I’ll still find an interface like the one in the screenshot when I access the Dashboard, more similar to what an Administrator should see.

I know, this only happens if you installed certain plugins and themes that flood the editing page with complex metaboxes, even hiding the default editor of WordPress. But from my experience, I think it is increasingly common to find WordPress installations with this type of settings.

The number of themes that include content builders (like Visual Composer and many more…) has increased dramatically. Often they help users to create content more easily, but sometimes they fail so badly because of their inherent complexity. Not to mention the content lock-in problem, perfectly explained in this awesome post by Pippin Williamson.

And the future doesn’t look much better here. It is true that the Gutenberg WordPress project aims to simplify and modernize the content editor to make it much more visual, simple, and intuitive. But how long will it take to see plugins or themes messing everything up with complicated options for content creators? Not much, I think…

Perhaps we should slow down for a moment the frenetic pace of development of plugins and themes and decide if what we’re doing could be done better, or at least, in another way. We should think first about how users and author are going to end up using things. Taking into account the usability requirements. Simplifying their work, rather than complicating their existence. We are all responsible for this problem with WordPress.

It seems silly and a waste of time, but we in Nelio spend lots of hours discussing the interfaces we develop (although other plugins later break them 😅), down to the smallest detail. It is not easy to do things simple to use and intuitive. Many times, as a technician, you feel like you have to provide a lot of options and buttons, but this usually results in a complicated UI that doesn’t help much. Simplifying is almost always positive, but it’s never easy.

Today I only wanted to share my opinion on a topic I think is quite important. I only try to shed some light to a subject we tend to forget, buried under the vortex of the day to day tasks. What do you think?

Featured image by Byron Sterk.

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