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Let's Talk About Editors' Experience

Sunday 24 February 2013 6:08:16 pm

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Hi everyone,

This is an update on the work we are doing nowadays at eZ to improve editors' lives. When I rejoined eZ a few months back, I was amazed and very excited by all the challenges eZ was working on, from a new Web architecture based on Symfony2 to the huge move to a full digital User Experience Management platform. A lot of projects and challenges, and a huge opportunity to make a real difference.

While the challenges above are really super exciting and important, there is another challenge that has been discussed, but that I am sure is still really unclear: how eZ will improve the lives of editors with a much better user experience on all the user interface of the platform.

Indeed, we all know that the current user interface now is the one inherited from eZ Publish 3 - I don't want to count the years! This user interface had some real strengths back in the day, especially compared to many of our competitors. Some are still totally true, some less… and it still competes well with the old generation of CMS (e.g. most of the market). But the truth is that this is living in the past and it will only get worth, UX standards have evolved and the legacy interface is now hardly following.

So, now that we just rebuilt the foundation of the eZ Publish Platform, whose foundations are a new API (PHP and REST), Symfony2 as a Web framework and a new highly scalable storage repository, it is time to tackle this topic and (re)give eZ Publish a cutting edge editorial interface. This is actually the next step for eZ Publish 5 to enable to run on a 100% new system, without relying on any legacy component.

Our goal for this interface is to release a first version with eZ Publish 5.2 as an alternative to the legacy interface. The new interface shall be the standard one in the next release in Spring 2014.

What happened in the past

First it might be important to clarify: we, at eZ, never decided to redesign the full UX. This shall be clear. We made some significant steps forward with the addition of the eZ toolbar and the creation of eZ Flow, but we kept building incrementally on top of the 3.0 interface without a real effort to rethink and improve. We have been touching on the subject many times with users and developers but never actually did this big step that redefines the whole interface.

We did some significant graphic changes such as the facelift that came from 3.x to 4.x but this was a facelift.

We introduced another facelift recently with the restyling of the user interface in eZ 5.0.

We know people are very sensitive to "look & feel" and we have received all sorts of feedback. The important thing to keep in mind however is that, in those 2 cases, we never changed the interface concept; we only changed styles. This can affect and improve usability but it can certainly not redefine the whole user experience.

What's happening now

So now that we have our new architecture in place, we have finally started the work for this giant step (and I must say I am REALLY excited about it as a user). You might have heard of work on the editorial interface last year. Indeed, we are not just starting now. A part of last year has been spent exploring different topics. One of them was the creation of a prototype of an interface for casual users.

This prototype (as seen above) is available online on Github. As always at eZ we try to be as open as we can. Don't be mistaken though, THIS IS NOT what the next editorial interface will look like. We are designing the next editorial interface right now. This was only a preliminary exploration.

Let me first update you on the process:

We have gathered together a team to work on that. I am spending a good share of my time on it and we have a senior UX architect & designer, Rainer Sax, who joined us for this special project that will be followed by graphic designers and of course front end developers. But we also want you to be part of that team!

To define the next generation of the eZ Interface, it appears to us vital to involve users and developers as much as possible to get feedback, but also ideally user testing and hopefully contributions!

How we will do it? We have decided for a first phase of 6 'end to end' user stories that are, in our opinion very representative of an editor's life working on eZ Publish. These 6 stories won't describe all the features in detail but will help us define all the fundamentals. By 'defining' we mean specifying the user interface components and behaviors using detailed wireframes. Only after that will we start the design work (that we want to keep in the back, serving the function).

We will keep a window of time to have these stories shown to users to collect feedback and do some early user testing. Then will follow design and development.

The 6 stories are the following:

  • Performing a basic edit on a content object, navigating the content tree, editing, previewing and publishing.
  • Creating a basic container object, and its sub-items, using the search discovery to know where to create the object.
  • Creating a landing page with a form wall, hiding a document behind this form wall, publishing the page.
  • Adjusting a front page, adding and moving blocks and content related to the blocks.
  • Publishing a piece of content using a Flex workflow and different screens (tablet, smartphone and pc).
  • Publishing a piece of content using a Classic workflow and different screens.

What are the main drivers of the UX design we started?

We gone with a holistic approach for the components of the eZ Platform which translate in the best way the mission statement of eZ - Empowering enterprises with the freedom to create sustainable content driven digital business. This drove us to identify different user interface domains based on the different personas involved and how they might overlap: navigation, administration interface, in-site and off-site editorial interface.

This also took us to define some key drivers for the UX such as:

  • Must be "Touchscreen compatible". It must work as efficiently on tablet screens as on computer's screens, and must adapt to smartphone screens.
  • Must be "User Centric", leaving more space to the user to take responsibility of tasks.
  • It must work to build applications as much as websites! Some people want Wysiwyg only, but Wysiwyg is almost over as there is no one single GET anymore in the WYG but multiple ones. More and more users will consume content via APIs and it must be possible to create a content-driven applications without even having a website as a front-end.
  • It must be best-in-class when it comes to extensibility. The previous generation of eZ Publish was a real champion of extensibility, often one of the main differentiators. We need to stay on this track and improve!
  • It must be flexible not only for developers but also end-users. eZ has always been loved by developers for its flexibility but was honestly fairly rigid towards end-users. This is a feedback that has often be sent to us. As eZ is in the journey to becoming a full digital user experience management platform, we must change that and become the most flexible UI as possible.

And finally, thanks to people having used eZ Publish for years, we have collected a huge number of small things to improve / eradicate / don't reproduce from the previous UI versions, that we keep in mind at each step of this process.

How to get involved and what's happening next?

So next, we will share the results of our work on these user stories with all eZ Publish users that are interested. We will have dedicated sessions in our forthcoming Product Innovation Board Meeting at the eZ Summit in Cologne this week where we will discuss this. Please feel free to come visit, there are still some seats available!

Then we will publish the first stories, as designed, here on share.ez.no to collect more feedback and will try to organize some focus groups with end-users. From there, we will have a short period of time to consolidate and will then soon, on one end implement the first components of the UI,  on the other continue the UX redesign by specifying in more detail some specific aspects of the interface, iterate with you, ask for more feedback, improve and build the best eZ Publish UI ever ;-)

Here you are. This is it for the plan, and from now, if you already have ideas, please comment below.

We would also be very happy to identify any areas where the community could join forces with us to develop this following our Open Source development model. It only makes sense if the whole community is involved and contributes. So if you think you can make a difference in any way in this project, please reach out. Contact me or comment below!

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