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Vjeran Vlahovic

8 suggestions to improve the administration interface experience

Wednesday 17 October 2012 5:25:28 pm

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Everyone knows that a great product is so much more than just a satisfying checklist of features. eZ Publish, as a platform, is superior to most of the other open source CMS products in regards to features and technical flexibility, but what about the editors' experience?

Surely, the clients really appreciate the speed of the implementation of improvements for their website. Also, they value how the platform stacks up over the years of usage and continuous changes on the said website. After working closely with numerous web editors for more than 7 years, the administration interface, although powerful, always seemed to me as the part of the system which lags the most.

I decided to write down some administration interface issues which are easy to solve, and which could hopefully have a positive impact on usability and the overall user experience. Also, I do hope this could be valuable for the eZ Publish team and eZ community members, who are for sure also keen to speed up the adoption process and make daily tasks of an average editor as easy as possible.

1. The Remove issue

One of the most common and serious issues I face with the new editors is their first remove operation. They would often remove the whole subtree instead of one or several selected nodes beneath.

The reason why this happens so often is simple, the right option "remove selected" is hidden behind the "more actions" button and the main area is not clearly separated from “Sub Items” section so the user selects several sub items and clicks on the "Remove" button which belongs to the main area. Sometimes this kind of situations could be avoided by the restrictive policies but sometimes the issue couldn't be as easily solved, mainly because the restrictive policies are not applicable in certain cases. A solution to this could be moving the buttons above the tabs in main area, or creating a stronger separation of these two blocks.

2. Priorities and ordering

It's hard for a new or an occasional editor to intuitively determine where and how the content sorting criteria can be controlled, and, in addition, it is something that can be easily forgotten.

The option is hidden in the Main area, under the “Ordering” tab, so it’s not clearly and visually associated with the subitems list in any way. The sorting gets even more confusing because of the ability to change the order of subitems by clicking on table column headers, which affects the order, but only for temporary display purposes, and has no relation with the ordering stored in the system.

3. Context menus

There are three context menus related to a content node which are available in the administration interface. They interact in an inconsistent way and thus are usually confusing.

The first context menu is triggered by clicking the class icon in the site tree. The second context menu has the same content as the first one, but it's triggered by clicking the unnecessary gear icon in the Sub items list, not the class icon which stands just next to it. The third context menu, triggered by clicking the class icon in the Main area, consists of completely different options than the previous two, offering options which are more suitable for developers.

4. Copy here

One of the most often “Copy” use cases is copying an object inside the same location. Because of this, “Copy here” feature would be really handy to avoid unnecessary “browse” steps.

5. Main area: general improvements

There is a lot of room for improvement inside the “Main area” block. For instance, there are no options available to copy a node, copy a whole subtree or to upload multiple files from here. Option to hide a node is hidden under Locations tab, which makes it hard to find it.

The “Remove” option can sometimes be a bit awkward when it comes to content with multiple locations. Clicking on the “Remove” button will remove an item only on the current location without asking for a confirmation and without warning the user that the same item is published on other location(s). There is no way to remove an item (object) from all locations at the same time.

6.  Main area: Multi-language content preview

Multi-language features are powerful and there’s a bunch of options which let you configure the behaviour of eZ Publish in terms of handling complex multi-site/multi-language installations. However, if you want to review content translation on several locations, you’ll have to constantly switch between the View and Translations tabs for every node opened, which is not very effective. A possible solution for this would be the integration of View and Translations tabs into one. Also, I suppose it would be nice to have the ability to set the default language for previewing content during a session, which could help in reducing unnecessary switches between the View and Translation tabs.

7. Subitems list

Sometimes I miss the ability to select a range of items by using the SHIFT key. This is a familiar UI pattern and it would speed up operations available under the “More actions” menu, like “Remove selected” and “Move selected”. This list of operations could be expanded with some other useful options like “hide/unhide selected” and “copy selected”. Except for removing the already mentioned unnecessary Gear icon, it would be nice to see a greater distinction between the hidden and visible items (the column with the visible/hidden statuses is not very helpful when you see a list of 50+ nodes).

8. YUI class dropdown

The class selector has been improved in the last community releases and now has a scroll-bar which really helps a lot when you have too many classes in your list.

Adding a scroll-bar made the top and bottom scroll controls superfluous and I do hope we will get rid of them soon. A search field, which filters the list of available classes and a list containing two of the last used classes could be added to this control to speed-up the process of selecting a proper class. The Gmail interface offers a similar search functionality while adding labels to conversations.

Conclusion

There is surely a ton of other things which weren't mentioned in this article, but I was aiming at those which are obvious and fairly easy to implement. I would like to hear what other community members think and what possible enhancements they have in mind.
The Community project gives us the freedom to enhance the interface from version to version, based on user feedback and the results of simple hallway tests. Can a better eZ Publish admin interface be a tipping point for even greater adoption of the platform?

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