Joomla UX – An Interview with Kyle Ledbetter

UX has become a bit of a buzz word in the last few years. Seemingly out of nowhere, UX designers started cropping up everywhere over the past five or so years. However, there’s a really good reason for this… All you need to do is look around you to see the vast array of badly designed products and websites. Thankfully, user experience designers are changing things,  designing and creating products that put people first, with the output being usable, useful and enjoyable. For websites, CMS systems have often been touted as the bearers of bad UX, with clunky, out-dated interfaces and little to no consideration of design. However, in recent years, things have started to move forward, with WordPress and Drupal vastly improving their interfaces, and now with Joomla working toward their 3.0 release, they’ve established JUX, a team dedicated to improving the user experience of Joomla in future releases.

We caught up with one of the team leads, Kyle Ledbetter, to find out more about JUX…

Why is user experience so important to Joomla?

UX is the cornerstone of any software. It’s the first and last impression you get while using it. Your experience in using Joomla is how you rate the quality of the software. Even if the underlying software is fantastic, if the UX is poor, Joomla is poor in your mind and your recommendations.

What do you hope to achieve with JUX?

My vision of the JUX will improve the daily lives of all Joomla users: designers, developers (core and community), site administrators. 

With proper standards and a set of UI tools, designers can more rapidly prototype wireframes and flows. With this, there would be little to no testing required or special CSS needed to provide a beautiful and seamless experience in a frontend site design, providing all the extensions are standard.

The community of Joomla developers have always struggled with the tools they have been given in the Joomla API, and end up innovating outside the core, essentially creating their own UI kits. The result is the current disjointed, nonstandard set of component interfaces that all have different design patterns and usability issues. If we all get on the same page with a core library of UI elements (JUI) and a set of best practices, developers can focus on the code and rapidly deploy interfaces, that use standards and have low learning curves.

Whether an administrator is running their own site, their company’s site, or delivering a site to a client, they clock the most time in the Joomla admin. An intuitive interface and logical workflows can lower barriers and increase adoption. From component to component, learning curves would naturally disappear as the UI and workflows become repetition.

I envision JUX iteratively improving 4 Joomla fronts: 

  1. Joomla.org (which we’ve just recently redesigned)
  2. Joomla Admin Template
  3. Joomla User Interface Library (JUI)
  4. Joomla Default Frontend Template & Sample Data

Can you explain a little more about the Joomla UI library (JUI)?

As I mentioned, Joomla developers have always faced issues with the available UI library in Joomla, and thus create their own UI islands. We need a core UI library that is continuously improved and evolved for the community developers’ needs. It’s impossible and illogical for the core team of devs to maintain this, so we need contributions from Joomla’s design community. I’d like to model the JUI after great UI toolkits like Bootstrap from Twitter, and possibly start with that set of tools. If Joomla developers have this available, I think we’ll see the amount and quality of components rise dramatically since you won’t have programmers fumbling around with interfaces. You have to remember, most Joomla devs are 2-3 person shops that don’t have a designer on staff!

What would you like to see in the Joomla 2.0 admin?

The focus of the Joomla 3.0 admin will be usability, workflow and customisation. We’re starting with a blank slate and no creative hindrances. How should Joomla look? How should Joomla work? 

We need a modern, flexible UI that honours the Joomla brand but reinvigorates the perception. It’s crazy to say, but this will be the first completely unique admin interface for Joomla’s core. Since 2005 we’ve been building on what we inherited from Mambo. This admin template should certainly be built on the JUI so it’s completely standard with community extensions.

I’m very excited about creating some new workflows around page creation. It’s probably the biggest pain point of Joomla. You currently have to jump from Categories to Articles to Menus to Modules and possible Templates, and each of those things have settings. We need a simple flow where you create a new Page, then pick what type of page it is and what shows on it. From there you can tweak settings, hopefully all in one location.

I’d also like to see the Joomla admin menu surface in the Menu Manager. Joomla has a powerful ACL system now, but is largely untapped in the admin site. We can deliver an admin menu system to offer all the customisations of the Joomla frontend.

I’ve taken my first stab at a Joomla 3.0 admin concept, but we’re also inviting other Joomla template designers to join in and share their concepts. This really needs to be a community effort!

What do you think of the current state of UX across all the major CMSs?

UX is on the forefront of any worthwhile CMS at this point. WordPress has focused on UX for years, improving their UI and workflow with every release. This is why WordPress is deemed “easy”. I believe that now WordPress is more than blogs, they’re hitting some of the UX issues Joomla has, since you’re providing an interface for…everything! Drupal realized their UX shortcomings and launched a community initiative with Drupal 7, and have significantly improved.

We should look beyond our neighbours though. There is some fantastic UX in hosted systems beyond open source, like LightCMS and SquareSpace. Those systems each have a wonderful frontend admin user experience, which could easily rise in importance for the JUX and Joomla 3.0.

Kyle is a Usability Engineer for Ebay, Inc. and UI/UX Designer for Joomla! Follow him on Twitter, or to find out more about about JUX and JUI, head to the JUX site.

Published by Luke

Luke is one of Ubelly’s resident social media guys, occasionally switching hats for a bit of design. He is the in-house meme expert, uses foursquare a little too much and gets hot under the collar when it comes to design, usability and gorgeous code.

2 Comments So Far, what do you think?

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