Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Five Ways to Improve Drupal’s Usability

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Drupal is a free, open source content management system (CMS). While there are many praiseworthy aspects of Drupal, usability probably isn’t one of them. Drupal gets a lot of love, especially from the developer community, but for non-developers, Drupal’s layout can be a barrier to its use. Fortunately, there are ways to improve that. Check out these five tips for improving Drupal’s usability.
#1 Multiple select boxes

While perhaps not a problem for you, multiple select boxes are confusing for many users. Using ctrl+click to select multiple items is not something that most users know about, so they tend to become irritated when they encounter these things. Sure, you could include instructions on the page, but why not take the most usable option and eliminate the problem altogether? Instead of using a select box, switch to a checkbox option, which most people will understand immediately. Although these select boxes are part of the program, you can install modules like Views Checkboxes or Better Select in order to get rid of all the select box defaults.

#2 Administration menu

The administration menu can be one of the trickiest parts of Drupal for new users (or users migrating from WordPress) to master. The Administration Menu module is probably the best way to improve the usability of this piece of Drupal. This module provides a theme-independent interface for navigation and back-end work. While it’s good for Drupal novices, it can also be beneficial for site administrators and developers looking to save time. Administration Menu displays links in a menu based on CSS and JavaScript at the top of each page of your site. It is compatible with any theme or browser.

#3 Disable what you don’t use

Drupal has a ton of features, but you probably don’t need all of them. Disabling features you’re not using or that your user doesn’t need will improve your site’s usability. The full might of Drupal’s out-of-the-box features can be overwhelming for site visitors, so hiding some features can make the site easier for them. For example, items such as node metadata like author information don’t need to be in search results because it is confusing for newbies. If users log in to your site for any reason, it can be beneficial to remove some of the tabs or modify forms to simplify them.  

#4 Don’t trust WYSIWYG

The “What you see is what you get (WYSIWYG)” editor can be convenient, but only if it does what you really want it to do. Before calling it a day on your Drupal setup, test that the editor actually achieves what you expect it to. If the results don’t look the way you intended, you can install an alternative WYSIWYG editor that formats text correctly. This is an aspect of content management that should be completely painless. There are various editing modules available for Drupal like CKeditor, which you can use with IMCE to manage files. This module also lets users define classes for advanced styling.

#5 Error messages should be helpful

It’s bad enough to make a mistake on a site, but when the error message doesn’t make sense to the user, things get even worse. Error messages should be free of jargon and explain how to avoid the problem. Drupal’s default error messages are not particularly user friendly, so changing them can make a big difference for your site’s usability.  Two modules that can help with this problem are Inline Form Errors and String Overrides. The first repositions error messages so they are next to the field that produced the error. The second substitutes jargon with user-friendly language by replacing strings of developer Jargon with strings of normal English.
Although Drupal’s out-of-the-box features are many, they aren’t always the ideal option for users. Fortunately, the nature of Drupal—open source, of course—makes it possible to change anything that isn’t working for you or your site’s visitors.

Sara Collins is a writer for NerdWallet. She works to help readers stay informed about every topic, from graphic design to comparing term life insurance versus whole life insurance.

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