How does knowledge of CMSs make you a better UX designer?

21 Dec 2008 - 8:57am
5 years ago
7 replies
1886 reads
Brian Henkel
2007

I'm planning to teach a course on how knowledge of Content Management
Systems makes us better user experience designers. In this course, we
will survey many prevalent CMS tools (slated at the moment: WordPress,
Drupal, Joomla, Sharepoint, Expression Engine) to review how they work,
analyze their capabilities and limitations, and overall, make
non-technical designers more conversant with these technologies. It is
my belief that this background not only helps a designer when
formulating/proposing a solution, but is also valuable in discussions
with other (perhaps more-technical) project team members.

I'd like to get thoughts and ideas from the community: How does
knowledge of Content Management Systems make us better user experience
designers? Literature on this topic seems to be scarce, so a
recommendation for further research is welcomed as well.

Brian Henkel
User Experience

Manifest Digital
1200 West Lake Street
Chicago, IL 60607
manifestdigital.com

312 235 3024 v
773 331 7645 c
312 803 9669 f

Comments

26 Dec 2008 - 2:28pm
DampeS8N
2008

I'm in the beginning stages of a redesign on the Army's CMS called
CORE. I'd be glad to talk to you if you wanted to know my thoughts
on CMS.

However. I'm a bit confused as to who you intend CMS to help?

Most CMS out there are horrific in many ways. They often are built so
a single person can do everything. But are also designed so only
someone with a background in that field (design, writing, so on) can
really understand them.

That has been my experience with WordPress and Joomla, and while not
-really- a CMS, Blogger is a great example of how tying up the loose
ends on one side creates a terrible mess on the other. (If you
haven't played with it, try to make your own template with blogger)

What we are trying to do with CORE this time around is to give each
kind of user their own interface. And we are also, due to the scale
of our user base, trying to get as much cross pollination as
possible. If you've ever worked with the government you'll know how
hard it is to get stove-piped section A to share anything with
stove-piped section B. Our CMS will treat all content somewhat like
clipart, and give suggestions. Someone who wrote a story about, say,
The Army Navy Game, would see some of the most popular photos
uploaded about that game when they go to attach a photo to the
article.

Among a host of other enhancements to the typical CMS. Such as a
reliance on predictive technology to send content to the sections
based on context. And an extension to page creation using widgets
which are powered by those feeds. And templates created by us and
others that aren't built with a template language, but are built
with html a single extra tag.

This system will go to support everything on Army.mil as well as
through a variety of widgets that can be place out on other sites.
(internal and external) through an API.

So in many ways it is much more than a CMS.

But, if you ask me, does the general public's understanding of CMS
make them better UX designers? I'd have to say certainly not, if
anything that is what we are trying to correct with our redesign.

If you ask me, does it make me a better UX designer? I would also say
no, because it is through the lens of my prior experience and training
that I am about to see what works and what doesn't.

Could a CMS be used as a tool to teach, certainly. But so can Word,
or Open Office, or Notepad, or Firefox.

Anything with good and bad choices you can use for illustration.

Perhaps I simply missed your point. I am quite prone to doing that.
So feel free to reiterate and call me out as a moron. I'm used to
it. :)

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
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29 Dec 2008 - 7:43am
Bruce Esrig
2006

It's important to put CMS's on a spectrum of means of storing and connecting
information:
- Email
- Web site (naive version)
- Blog
- Wiki
- Online documents
- CMS

E-mail is point-to-point communication between an author and a group.
Archiving is typically on a per-author basis. E-mail can include links to
sites. Some providers insert links and ads in the content of the e-mail or
in the reader environment. There are abbreviation services that make it
easier to send long links that might otherwise get broken during
transmission.

A web site is created by a designer, populated by an author, and made
available. It may have structure built in that connects the pages, that
offers invitations of various kinds, and that provides context for users
arriving from other places.

A blog is created by an author as part of a time series. The web site
aspects are often pre-determined or only lightly customizable. This makes a
blog easier to create than a new web site. A blog has a comment feature that
allows readers to annotate individual pages. The blogroll, trackback and
permalink features connect a blog with other blogs and occasionally with
other non-blog sites.

A wiki is a collaboration environment in which each page is created
individually by an author. Other authors can modify the page or contribute
to an associated talk page. There is a naming mechanism that makes it easier
to create links to pages by title, and a tagging or category mechanism that
groups pages that mention a common subject. As with a hand-crafted web site,
there is a need for some common practices in page titles, category
assignments, and linking conventions in order to ensure that information
remains findable.

Online documents provide a collaboration environment in which multiple
authors can update information and see each others' updates in something
approximating real time. The update frequency determines how dynamically
authors can interact through the online document. The internal structure of
an online document is modeled after traditional desktop application
documents. Online documents reside in an external framework that is modeled
after a file system.

A content management system is a collaboration environment in which each
page of information that the user sees is built from multiple pieces. The
pieces each have individual identifiers that are independent of their title.
There may be a file system view that can be used to organize the pieces, but
the file system relies on the internal identifiers rather than the other way
around. A CMS typically allows content to be tagged or categorized, and
usually the categories can be organized into a hierarchy called a taxonomy.

In order to construct content pages in a CMS, it is not only necessary to
design content templates. In addition, the taxonomy and the types of pieces
that will be supported need to be designed. This determines the types of
content pages that can be constructed.

Blogs, wikis, online documents, and CMS's share common issues with
participation. In each case, readers judge the content by how recently it
has been updated, how carefully it has been authored, whether the authors
seem to have been careful about writing authoritative content, and whether
the content has since been superseded. In order to make the transition to
contributor, a reader must be convinced that their contribution will be
valuable, either by increasing the contributor's visibility, or by improving
the understanding of subsequent readers.

Wikis and CMS's also have social issues: how to deal with clashes among
contributors. It can happen that different contributors have different
perspectives on what needs to be said, or different frames on which to base
their remarks. It can be very difficult to re-frame existing contributions
to track an emerging consensus about the framework underlying the
discussion. In this sense, a blog is a better technology for conversation
that is based on a fluid set of assumptions. A wiki can be a place for
consensus-building when the community agrees to focus their
consensus-building efforts there.

Traditionally, CMS's have concentrated on enabling content to be published,
but not on serving as a forum for consensus-building. Consequently, a
community using a CMS often designates specialists to serve as authors in
particular subject areas. These specialists can be called owners, which
would be considered too strong a term in the culture surrounding a wiki. The
sense of ownership is made necessary in part by the difficulty of producing
a coherent result from multiple small pieces. Each owner acts as editor of a
subject-matter area, ensuring that the required assets are available to
support the presentation of a particular point.

This brings us back to web sites, since a CMS can serve as the back end for
a web site. A CMS is a powerful mechanism that permits generation of pages
that are adapted to the user and their session history. But because of the
extra layer of design requirements (for the taxonomy and the content types),
it only pays to use a CMS for sites above a certain scale, or when a number
of sites are being constructed that follow a common pattern.

Best wishes,

Bruce Esrig
Madison, NJ

On Sun, Dec 21, 2008 at 9:57 AM, Brian Henkel <
brian.henkel at manifestdigital.com> wrote:

> I'm planning to teach a course on how knowledge of Content Management
> Systems makes us better user experience designers. In this course, we
> will survey many prevalent CMS tools (slated at the moment: WordPress,
> Drupal, Joomla, Sharepoint, Expression Engine) to review how they work,
> analyze their capabilities and limitations, and overall, make
> non-technical designers more conversant with these technologies. It is
> my belief that this background not only helps a designer when
> formulating/proposing a solution, but is also valuable in discussions
> with other (perhaps more-technical) project team members.
>
>
>
> I'd like to get thoughts and ideas from the community: How does
> knowledge of Content Management Systems make us better user experience
> designers? Literature on this topic seems to be scarce, so a
> recommendation for further research is welcomed as well.
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
> Brian Henkel
> User Experience
>
> Manifest Digital
> 1200 West Lake Street
> Chicago, IL 60607
> manifestdigital.com
>
> 312 235 3024 v
> 773 331 7645 c
> 312 803 9669 f
>
>
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>
>

29 Dec 2008 - 9:18am
mtumi
2004

Well in the sense that knowledge of a tool at our disposal is good, I
suppose it makes us better - like knowledge of how a planer works
might make someone a better carpenter, particularly on a job that
required one.

I think an broad examination of CMS's might also be useful in that
it's always valuable to look at different ways the same sort of tasks
can be accomplished to see the variations in the solutions that were
chosen. Looking at CMS's in particular might also be useful since so
much of what we do as user experience designers is presentation of
content. Presentation of different kinds and variable amounts of
content can be tricky, and that's what these systems do.

All that said, I am not sure that I fully agree with the statement
that knowledge of CMS's makes people better user experience designers.
The suggested inverse of this - that lack of knowledge of CMS's will
make you a worse user experience designer - seems doubtful to me. I
suppose a statement like this will be good for generating debate and
discussion though.

Michael

On Dec 21, 2008, at 9:57 AM, Brian Henkel wrote:

> I'm planning to teach a course on how knowledge of Content Management
> Systems makes us better user experience designers. In this course, we
> will survey many prevalent CMS tools (slated at the moment: WordPress,
> Drupal, Joomla, Sharepoint, Expression Engine) to review how they
> work,
> analyze their capabilities and limitations, and overall, make
> non-technical designers more conversant with these technologies. It
> is
> my belief that this background not only helps a designer when
> formulating/proposing a solution, but is also valuable in discussions
> with other (perhaps more-technical) project team members.
>
>
>
> I'd like to get thoughts and ideas from the community: How does
> knowledge of Content Management Systems make us better user experience
> designers? Literature on this topic seems to be scarce, so a
> recommendation for further research is welcomed as well.
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
> Brian Henkel
> User Experience
>
> Manifest Digital
> 1200 West Lake Street
> Chicago, IL 60607
> manifestdigital.com
>
> 312 235 3024 v
> 773 331 7645 c
> 312 803 9669 f
>

29 Dec 2008 - 9:53am
Avi Soudack
2005

Hi Brian,

In my view, there are three reasons for understanding CMS's. All three are
more practical than theoretical.

First, you need to know the medium through which your design will be
realized. If you are designing a solution that will be implemented with a
CMS, then you should certainly know the limitations and strengths of that
system. Understanding how the CMS generates navigation, incorporates
taxonomies, and presents interaction, etc. will help you design something
that can be built within the constraints of the system, or, identify what
needs to be altered or created.

Second, (assuming you are not the primary webmaster/author) you are actually
leaving behind two (or more) 'experiences' - the site as published and the
site as tool for publishing/communicating. Usually our designs are
'populated' and maintained by content owners and authors who interact with
the site through various types of management interfaces, long after the
'design' has been delivered. Those interfaces are typically determined by
the CMS and are often not modifiable by the experience designer. Knowing
how the CMS handles data/content input can help you create a system that is
usable for the full spectrum of user roles.

Third, if you are involved in choosing a CMS, as you may be when specifying
requirements, then knowing what's out there seems a necessary bit of
preparation.

If you are in the attractive position that William is describing of creating
a publishing/CMS platform, to suit all your user types/needs, then knowing
how an existing CMS works is less important, other than, as he suggests,
learning from past mistakes/successes.
And as Bruce mentions, CMS's can be viewed as collaboration platforms. There
again, i think knowing what functionality your CMS platform supports (blogs,
commenting, etc.) and understanding how your particular platform enables (or
hinders) exchange and presentation of information can only improve your
design work.

/avi
brightroom.ca

>
> On Dec 21, 2008, at 9:57 AM, Brian Henkel wrote:
>
> I'm planning to teach a course on how knowledge of Content Management
>> Systems makes us better user experience designers. In this course, we
>> will survey many prevalent CMS tools (slated at the moment: WordPress,
>> Drupal, Joomla, Sharepoint, Expression Engine) to review how they work,
>> analyze their capabilities and limitations, and overall, make
>> non-technical designers more conversant with these technologies. It is
>> my belief that this background not only helps a designer when
>> formulating/proposing a solution, but is also valuable in discussions
>> with other (perhaps more-technical) project team members.
>>
>> I'd like to get thoughts and ideas from the community: How does
>> knowledge of Content Management Systems make us better user experience
>> designers? Literature on this topic seems to be scarce, so a
>> recommendation for further research is welcomed as well.
>>
>>

29 Dec 2008 - 11:58am
Nicholas Iozzo
2007

A perspective missed from the above replies is when you are designing
an application where a CMS system will be used to localize all the
content. In these cases, you need to understand how the CMS system
will handle run-time data. e.g. In an e-commerce application, the
total price for your purchase, the date the item will be shipped, or
the number of items to be shipped are all examples of run-time data.

We need to understand this because this will change our design. In
the following examples, the text between { and } is the run-time
data.

Example 1:
The {3} items you have ordered will be sent in {1} box.

In this example, we have grammar dependent phrases. This increases
the work to maintain the content of the application%u2026 even more
so if you need to support many languages. As the designer, you need
to determine if it is worth this extra work or if you can rework the
content to communicate the same message to the user, but with less
work to maintain and deploy across the world.

Example 2:
Expect the item to arrive on {Mon Dec 29, 2008}.

This is a run-time data, but it also needs to be localized. To
localize, a mask is created where the order of the month, day, year,
day of week can be changed as well as the use of numbers, full
spelling, etc%u2026 can be defined.

Most languages support a small handful of localized date and time
formats. These standard localized formats might work for a simple
application, but you may need to have other format due to space
constraints or business rules.

As the designer of the system, you need to decide how many date and
time formats you wish to support%u2026 I%u2019ve not worked through
all the possible permutations, but on one recent audit I saw a site
that wished to be localized have over 35 different formats. This is
too much to support for very little value to the user. We where able
to get this down to 9 formats.

I will go into more detail on this and other design documentation
issues during my talk at Interaction 09 | Vancouver.
http://tiny.cc/hMpRw

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=36653

26 Dec 2008 - 10:35am
Sterling Koch
2008

Hi, Brian. I think this is an interesting angle for a class and definitely worthwhile. I've worked with almost all these CMS tools fairly extensively and have actually learned a fair amount about UX (what to do or NOT to do) from them. I've never articulated the question so clearly as you have, but you made me realize I'd been thinking about the answer for some time now. In short, I think CMS is one of the best focus groups for a UX study if only because the various programs are so widely and fundamentally varied in their approaches to (more or less) the same concept (word processors, by comparison, tend to be more or less the same).

To start with, it's a great discussion on usability vs. features and whether features themselves are an element of good UX design. The best comparison here is probably Drupal vs. Joomla.

Drupal was (in my opinion, whatever may have been stated on drupal.org) created by and for php developers and its paradigm and logic reflects these roots. I think Drupal's UX made sense if you placed a high priority on maximum flexibility and unlimited features. It also helped if you could think like a php developer, but the point here is that one of the core values of Drupal was being able to do anything with it. That IS the user story and so that is part of the UX scope, even if the interface itself doesn't always (or hardly ever) make sense to those who expect things to work like MS Office (not to say that Office is limited, just that it goes about things a certain way). For those people (which is most of the population), Drupal's UX is a nightmare, though it has certainly improved in the last couple years thanks to a very active community (and probably because of the new expectations that Joomla introduced). I have always loved Drupal because I tend to start with knowing what site I want to create and then finding a way to make that site, whatever it may consist of. Drupal allows for this and therefore my interface with the program is secondary to the ability to the tangible realization of my genius (ha!).

Joomla is at almost the complete opposite end of the spectrum. I personally found it incredible confusing because, again, I had an idea of what I wanted to create and Joomla just wasn't able to do that. Once I flipped my expectations around, though, I immediately found why so many people loved it. Joomla has placed a heavy emphasis on usability in the sense of what we normally discuss on this IxDA list: how people interact with the product. Once you understand the flow (Section > Category > Page > Menu Item), it's pretty simple and lots of people with very little tech knowledge are either creating new websites with it or are suddenly able to sell their services as 'web designers'. For Joomla, though, interaction trumps features. It works as long as you go in willing to create the sort of site that Joomla can create (which is why I had a tough time at first). The creators of Joomla, it seems, sat down and thought through what most users really needed to accomplish and made that part of the UX requirements.

So here you've got a great discussion, with the two most popular CMS apps as case studies, of what makes for good UX design. Is it allowing the user to accomplish their goal or is it the interface along the way? As my voice coach used to ask (talking about training for opera, of course), are we after process or product? Ideally, of course, it's both, but we almost always tend to lean one way or the other.

There are lots of other ways that Content Managers can be used as a lens through which to view UX practices, but hopefully that helps to move the conversation along.
__________________

Sterling Koch

-----Original Message-----
From: discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com [mailto:discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com] On Behalf Of Brian Henkel
Sent: Sunday, December 21, 2008 6:58 AM
To: discuss at ixda.org
Subject: [IxDA Discuss] How does knowledge of CMSs make you a better UX designer?

I'm planning to teach a course on how knowledge of Content Management
Systems makes us better user experience designers. In this course, we
will survey many prevalent CMS tools (slated at the moment: WordPress,
Drupal, Joomla, Sharepoint, Expression Engine) to review how they work,
analyze their capabilities and limitations, and overall, make
non-technical designers more conversant with these technologies. It is
my belief that this background not only helps a designer when
formulating/proposing a solution, but is also valuable in discussions
with other (perhaps more-technical) project team members.

I'd like to get thoughts and ideas from the community: How does
knowledge of Content Management Systems make us better user experience
designers? Literature on this topic seems to be scarce, so a
recommendation for further research is welcomed as well.

Brian Henkel
User Experience

Manifest Digital
1200 West Lake Street
Chicago, IL 60607
manifestdigital.com

312 235 3024 v
773 331 7645 c
312 803 9669 f

________________________________________________________________
Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help

26 Dec 2008 - 3:59pm
Andrew Boyd
2008

Brian,

in this climate (or any other) I'd go for the total WIIFM package. In a
perfect world, all other things being equal:
- the CMS-aware designer will have a better chance of designing something
that works within a given CMS framework/platform,
- the CMS-aware designer's consultancy boss will get more work for the
CMS-aware designer, and
- the CMS-aware designer's client will get a better job with less faffing
about (i.e. more effective and efficient, ultimately a better job for the
same money).

I haven't included "the CMS-aware designer's
coder/infrastructure-architecture colleagues will ultimately get a better
specification (i.e. one that specifies a design that they can actually
implement without wholesale translation)" because you seem to have that
covered :)

If you can produce and deliver a course that reduces the learning curve then
you will be doing everyone a favour.

Something to keep in mind is that "the way Sharepoint does it" (or any other
CMS) is not usually going to be the same as "the way we implement Sharepoint
around here" - which is an opportunity for in-house tailored training.

Cheers, Andrew

On Mon, Dec 22, 2008 at 1:57 AM, Brian Henkel <
brian.henkel at manifestdigital.com> wrote:

> I'm planning to teach a course on how knowledge of Content Management
> Systems makes us better user experience designers. In this course, we
> will survey many prevalent CMS tools (slated at the moment: WordPress,
> Drupal, Joomla, Sharepoint, Expression Engine) to review how they work,
> analyze their capabilities and limitations, and overall, make
> non-technical designers more conversant with these technologies. It is
> my belief that this background not only helps a designer when
> formulating/proposing a solution, but is also valuable in discussions
> with other (perhaps more-technical) project team members.
>
>
>
> I'd like to get thoughts and ideas from the community: How does
> knowledge of Content Management Systems make us better user experience
> designers? Literature on this topic seems to be scarce, so a
> recommendation for further research is welcomed as well.
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
> Brian Henkel
> User Experience
>
> Manifest Digital
> 1200 West Lake Street
> Chicago, IL 60607
> manifestdigital.com
>
> 312 235 3024 v
> 773 331 7645 c
> 312 803 9669 f
>
>
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>

--
---
Andrew Boyd
http://onblogging.com.au

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