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A geek's life, drive and usability

Submitted by nk on Sat, 2011-06-25 05:47

This might be boring (and might be better at chxramblings than here) but oh well. I will talk about some things that I perceive as I live the typical (?) geek, introvert life and the consequences for usability.

I have used the phrase "the day I have not learned something is a day wasted" much, much longer than I have known about the "Today I learned" section on Reddit. The use of almost the same words is shocking. It's not "something interesting I read" -- it's today I learned. There are apparently many people out there who want to learn something every. single. day. That's the true meaning of "lifelong education" for me. This drive makes the "just try stuff" hacker attitude absolutely natural, self evident.

This xkcd comic has a part which is a centerpiece of why this flowchart does not work at all for "non-computer people": pick one at random. Remember the picture in The Inmates Are Running the Asylum by Alan Cooper where the guy is getting on the airplane and is given the choice of the cockpit and the passenger seats? For me, the cockpit but asking someone who is not experienced with and not even interesting in flying airplanes, gosh, that's really frightening!

This post came to my mind as I was walking home last weekend from Manhattan to my hotel in Queens after successfully navigating the subway system while parts of it was closed and catched myself condensing the day's experiences into rules I can reuse when riding the subway like that again. The timing was apt -- it was just a week after DrupalCamp Colorado and our seminal session with Jen Lampton (gawd, how is it possible it was not selected for London?) and so the rift was much on my mind.

So the fundamental drive for me is to learn, try and create. This leads me to very different paths than other people who have different drives and priorities. Crystallizing it down makes me understood better why I have chosen the workplace I did and what is the very question I need to ask in the future: what will this work teach me? What areas will I get a chance to learn? If your company is just spinning the same wheel over and over, color me not interested. If there are several companies which give me a good enough salary and acceptable working environment, the choice is made on those questions. (In a somewhat similar vein, when I need to chose a technology, technological fitness only matters as a barrier to cross, the choice of those that are good enough for the task is not made on any technology but the support.)

So how does this relate to Drupal? To Drupal 8 specifically? There is already a movement called Snowman which wants to add, to my understanding, something that "works" as profile, possibly as a default profile. That's not going to be enough. To make Drupal great we must take away most of the choices from the default UI. We started this by moving things into collapsed fieldsets but as a usability study showed people start with opening them. No. Take them away hard. Have a very wizard-heavy default UI with very few choices. Do not show any of the advanced features. Maybe add a true overlay which is not moving every goddamn feature in Drupal into the overlay but have a very limited admin wizard in there. I know very well how separate beginner and advanced UIs are a burden on both the developers and the users but I see no other way to ease people into Drupal. Mind you: this is doable as a Drupal 7 distribution as well and then you can usability test it.

Ps. it seems Snowman is stalled a bit. Anyone wanting to help moving it forward?

Commenting on this Story is closed.

Submitted by Anonymous on Sat, 2011-06-25 07:12.

Definitely noticed the difference in motivations. I have wondered the same, "How can you not want to try that or are not interested in X."

Submitted by Anonymous on Sat, 2011-06-25 16:11.

So now, I know that why Drupal never and would never be CMS for most people. I've been waiting for years and don't understand why simple thing can't be achieved easily even Drupal is so robust. With this developer Mindset, people should try Wordpress or other simple CMS to see if it fit they need. Avoid Drupal if not necessary, just use it only when they need if they are not geek and don't want to hassle with learning to use clustered UI and coding, or hire someone to do.

Drupal will never be a simple product with this developer mindset. And it always will be, even build new user friendly distro. The problem is Drupal developers are too smart and see difficult, complicate thing that freak normal guys like a simple task. Then they will always find solutions that never be simple enough for normal people.

Please, bring Drupal to most people not just for geek. And please give usability a chance, there're 2 usability book anyone should read from Steve Krug:

Don't Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, 2nd Edition
Rocket Surgery Made Easy: The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Finding and Fixing Usability Problems

And give normal people a chance, low hanging fruit stuffs are also necessary if we don't want Drupal to become niche CMS for smart people and smart companies (which most people in this world are not).


Submitted by Anonymous on Sat, 2011-06-25 19:46.

Richard, it doesn't look like you read the article. chx said the same thing, and he's the one with the developer mindset. :-/

@chx, would you propose having the full UI just being exposed by a separate module in core?

Submitted by Anonymous on Mon, 2011-06-27 18:53.

Thanks for this chx. "To make Drupal great we must take away most of the choices from the default UI" was part of my slides for Design camp Berlin the next day! It seems people can agree on making the default install more opiniated. Agreement on what that opinion should be will likely be harder. That's why I think we need more than 1 idea (Snowman) for this. If we focus on 1 idea too soon we run the risk of over-stretching what that should do and still end up with a 'bit-of-everything' melange instead of a focussed application.

Submitted by Anonymous on Mon, 2011-06-27 18:56.

My slides

Submitted by Anonymous on Tue, 2011-06-28 10:36.

I've been learning Drupal for years, but can't get comfortable to the level that I feel productive. A few month ago, I need to get a project done so fast so I picked Wordpress which I never dive into. It's so simple I almost don't need any guide to do most of the task, even though the core is hacky, but for normal project it's rarely any issue. So I've learned a lot from Wordpress coder, they're 'getting thing done style'.

Contrary to Drupal style, they seem to build from small things and don't plan long term much. But small things add up. This make their framework not so scalable but seem to be a very solid product because they always focused on thing they good at. But this also make their product simple to use too, because the way they built is simple! I see that there're areas that Drupal don't need to be so scalable, we can do low hanging fruit things on that and move on to other thing fast. Sometime lazy is good, we just have to think that we want more free time everyday and now less priority things are identified.

My opinion according to the slide:

Slide 7 - I remembered that most human can't even make a decision if there's more than 8 choice at the same time (from Steve Krug book). Drupal have too many choices for normal people in some area, then no matter how the UI is it will never be simple.
Slide 13 - No. If we want to make some one know their content is published. Then tell them 'Publish content' or 'Save Draft' or 'Preview Content'
Slide 17 - That's exactly how wordpress and a few CMS do and get a lot share. And who know what Facebook can do in a few years to come, we should take advantage on simple to do thing that people mostly used too and do it fast. Facebook is so successful because it make everything look simple stupid, but people get used to it so quick and be productive with it. When people can be prodcutive with, they can be creative and used it effectively. A lot people never even need to know CMS and make ten thousands a month on it.
Slide 18 - Again, I agreed. And if possible, don't give people any choice. Just give options later on, freedom still there.
Slide 20 - This step is quite freak and not necessary for most user (end user). Just skip it, no UI when thing is not necessary. Or should be renamed to shared-host (minimal) VS self-host (standard). Advanced user will pick modules themself later anyway no matter what they choose. Until we have some thing like forum, blog, wiki, multisite, intranet, commerce, social network out of the box (no going to happened soon).
Slide 24 - Task that have more than 8 choices absolutely need hierachy. Quick usability testing we can see instantly is something like : numbers of items, number of menu, number of object on the page, number of letters, how far mouse have to move(px), how many clicks/steps/page reload to get mostly used tasks in common sense done. See with half-closed eyes or just let a child see it ;)
Slide 24 - Agreed. Actually, I almost never have any ideas in my life. I borrowed them from smart guys.
Slide 26 - If 1 column get thing done, don't use 2 columns. If 2 columns get things done, don't use 2 column. If don't need block, just don't use block. A good example is Log-in block, actually we only need form and simple explanation not a block.
Slide 29 - Renamed it to tag, or let user rename it. Developers know the real name when they code anyway. And the fast way to reseach is use google to find common word, which seem to have more search results and good stable trend. And listen to marketing guy opinions too. European people tend to good at use complicated things because they seem to be well educated than most region(See, Finland people don't think Nokia phone UI was freak;)
Slide 33 - Break thing to steps,hierachy is good. See how kids learn, that's the way human learn.

Sorry, to be a bit out of topic. But my job is to get this message to top Drupal developers which seem to be around here anyway.

I love Drupal, even now I became wordpress guys and having fun with small and quick projects, will be back when I have enough resouced to tackle Drupal comfortably.