The revamped WordPress “Write” screen. View a four-minute screencast showing a handful of highlights of the new interface.
At Happy Cog, we’re huge fans of WordPress, the open source blogging software powered by web standards. From the blogs of The New York Times to amateur homepages featuring goofy cat pictures, WordPress is used on hundreds of thousands of sites, read by tens of millions daily. It is the largest self-hosted blogging tool in the world.
When founder Matt Mullenweg approached us to redesign WordPress for an upcoming, significant version 2.5, he wanted more than a pretty new skin. The entire user experience was up for review.
A matter of clarity
WordPress was designed to get out of a writer’s way while providing powerful features as needed. But as often happens with software updated by many hands, some of WordPress’s initial simplicity and clarity had gotten lost as new features were added over the years. Navigational labels and admin site structures had evolved organically, without recourse to sustained user testing or serious information architecture. There was a randomness and unpredictability to everything from the location of key functions to the number of items in the navigation menu.
Working with WordPress users and developers, Happy Cog conducted research to understand how people use WordPress and to craft optimally usable architectures in response. Rigor was applied to existing features; new features, based on user needs and competitive analysis, were integrated into the emerging fabric.
In short, Happy Cog crafted a revised information architecture that is more about the user than it is about WordPress. In the old WordPress, for example, navigation was without hierarchy. Important activities to the user, such as writing a new blog post, sat right alongside less important administrative ones. Likewise, the Dashboard was dominated by WordPress-specific news. And while users enjoyed getting updates on WordPress peripherally as they zipped past to manage comments or write a new post, this front page didn’t help users understand what was really important to them: their blog. Happy Cog evaluated the primary tasks in order to create navigation and a Dashboard that mirror the key tasks that most users perform each time they return.
To cite just one example, in the old WordPress, an advanced user could manually edit the slug of a post via a field in the right sidebar whose location was random and draggable. No provision was made for the less clueful user. And no user, unless willing to perform URL-hacking gymnastics, could tell until a post was published exactly what its final URL would be.
Editable, automatically generated post title slugs appear contextually, when and where they are needed.
In the new WordPress, after you compose a title, a field containing editable text appears under the title, showing what the final URL will be. Users can edit the URL as they see fit; intermediate users, as they grow accustomed to seeing the URL field appear each time they write a title, will gain knowledge that turns them into advanced users.
A clear design
As architecture removed cobwebs, a fresh design brought clarity and pleasure of use to what had been a developer-driven look and feel. The new look was an evolution of the old WordPress, not a painful rupture from it. Hierarchy, clarity, and other elements of good design were brought to bear without “cheating.” The same constraints that underlay earlier WordPress designs—such as the need to use HTML rather than images and Flash—remain in place. Design ideas also fed back into architecture and research, in a creative loop that is only possible with small teams, working closely together.
Research and development, usability testing, information architecture, brand design and consulting, graphic design, user interface design. Launched 29 March 2008.