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Contributing to open-source Drupal as a non-developer – reflections and projections

Drupal is the content management system underpinning EdWeb (and EdWeb2). It’s open source meaning it’s built by the community for the community. I’ve been contributing my UX expertise to Drupal since speaking at DrupalCon in 2022.

Drupal’s just for developers, right? Wrong.

When I first encountered Drupal in my role as UX lead on the University Web Publishing Platform project to upgrade EdWeb, I realised the benefits of learning about this system to help me understand the functionality embedded in EdWeb. Conducting research into the ways web publishers used EdWeb, I made connections between what they needed and what Drupal offered, which inspired me to pitch a talk about the editorial experience of Drupal at Drupal’s annual European conference in 2022. Attending DrupalCon as a speaker was an immersive experience. Not only was I able to learn more about Drupal the product from those who develop and maintain it, I was also able gain insight into the wider Drupal ecosystem, to appreciate the promotional and marketing side of Drupal, as well as its strong emphasis on user experience, usability and accessibility. This enabled me to see how I, from a content design and UX background, could fit into the Drupal community and make useful contributions.

Read more in my related blog post:

DrupalCon Prague 2022 – a content design and editorial perspective

Open source – a ticket to continuous user-centred innovation and improvement

Preparing my talk for DrupalCon Prague gave me the opportunity to learn more about the Drupal ecosystem. One of the first phrases I came to associate with Drupal was ‘open source’. Drupal’s source code is publicly and freely available for anyone to use, modify and distribute. This means various things – firstly Drupal is completely transparent and therefore very secure because unlike with proprietary software, its code is under constant public scrutiny. Secondly, since Drupal is built, maintained and grown by a community of people (affectionately known as Drupalists and Drupalistas), it is collaborative and therefore extremely user-centred with great potential for home-grown or ‘democratised’ innovation.

Users that innovate can develop exactly what they want, rather than relying on manufacturers to act as their (often very imperfect) agents – Eric Von Hippel, Democratising innovation, 2006

As a UX practitioner and advocate for user-centred design practices, I felt at home in the Drupal community, and was excited to learn how I could contribute to innovating and improving Drupal for the benefit of all who want to use it to build websites and create digital experiences.

Identifying opportunities to contribute as a UX and content design practitioner

Attending DrupalCon Prague enabled me to attend a range of sessions, ask questions and meet people from the community face-to-face so I could work out where I could fit into the contribution model. I wanted to identify where my skills would be best applied but also where the best learning opportunities were – to benefit me in my role as User Experience Manager at the University. I wanted to be able to make a difference to Drupal because I recognised this would be valuable to my work in relation to the Web Publishing Platform project but also in the wider sense, managing and iterating the digital user experiences of our diverse audiences at the University.

Read about my stand-out sessions from DrupalCon Prague 2022

Joining the Promote Drupal initiative

Drupal’s founder, Dries Buytaert delivered a ‘Driesnote’ in 2022 in which he mentioned an initiative to improve the way Drupal was promoted and to achieve greater understanding about what Drupal is and does. Being new to Drupal myself, this resonated with me and I joined the group to learn more. I recognised opportunities to offer my expertise which would have the dual benefit of improving my own understanding of Drupal as well as enabling me to be more informed in my ongoing work on the Web Publishing Platform project.

Identifying what makes people decide on Drupal

A key persona important to the Promote Drupal initiative is the ‘Evaluator’ – the CIO, CEO or CMO who holds the power to ‘choose Drupal’. Years of research had been completed to gain an understanding of this persona, however the question remained ‘what makes people decide on Drupal?’. I suggested using the Jobs To Be Done (JTBD) construct to tease out some of the main contributing factors feeding into the decision-making process, such as ‘Knowing exactly what it’s good for’, ‘Being inspired and excited’, ‘Sizing up the costs’, and ‘Being reassured of security and compliance aspects’. Using this framework helped creative thinking to identify fresh opportunities to reach Drupal Evaluators.

Improving content on is Drupal’s website and a key promotional channel, but like many websites, its content has grown over years and much of it was out of date or not speaking to key user needs (revealed by completing a content tracking audit exercise). Using the knowledge gained from the JTBD work I was able to work with the team to categorise the content on to prioritise content targeted to people evaluating Drupal, and to identify the ‘filler’ content which could be removed to start to make more effective in its promotional messaging.

Developing a tree-test for

Aligned with the content work on was an impetus to revisit the site’s menu structure, to potentially strip out deeper menu levels and surface important content. It is important to make navigational changes which are evidence-based so I designed a tree-test study to test our hypotheses about buried content to inform decision-making. It was a proud moment when the link to my test was shared in both the Driesnote and the Strategic Initiative Lead presentations at DrupalCon Lille 2023 (read more in my related blog, linked below).

Usability issue analysis

Drupal evolves and develops through pieces of work completed by contributors which are logged as individual issues in issue queues – items to work on are raised as issues, members of the community work together to address each issue, and ultimately code changes are committed (or other actions taken) to resolve each issue. There is a weekly meeting to discuss issues in the usability issue queue. Encouraged by my colleague Aaron McHale, I began attending these meetings in 2023 to offer a non-developer perspective on issues being discussed, which often relate to the positioning and labelling of items within different aspects of the Drupal user interface.

Drupal administration user interface – card sorting, usability testing

Through the usability meetings, I became aware of a project to improve the Drupal administration user interface (admin UI), to make it more intuitive for different Drupal audiences including site builders and developers as well as content editors. I took part in a card sort to feed in suggestions for grouping items in the admin UI, and helped analyse the findings from the sort to develop prototypes for testing. The contribution day at DrupalCon Lille 2023 offered a chance to help Aaron McHale with some pop-up usability testing of an early prototype. Aaron and I followed this up with online testing of a later iteration of the prototype, and the results of our test analysis have since fed into decisions about menu positioning, functionality and item labels.

Further contribution at DrupalCon Lille 2023

I was accepted as a speaker to DrupalCon Lille 2023, and this was my first experience of attending a DrupalCon with a bit of contribution already under my belt. This helped me identify even more ways to get involved. I ran a BoF (Birds of a Feather) session with Aaron with a focus on de-jargoning Drupal and wrote microcopy to describe modules as part of the Project Browser Initiative.

Read more about DrupalCon Lille 2023 in my related blog:

DrupalCon Lille 2023 – A UXer’s perspective

Reflections and projections – from a ‘non-dev’ Drupalista

In the relatively short time I’ve known about Drupal, any initial misconceptions I had about it being ‘only for developers’ have been quashed. Meeting the community face-to-face gave me the confidence to get involved with contribution, and every contribution I have made has opened more doors. Contributing has benefited me greatly in my understanding of Drupal, to aid conversations with developer colleagues and in my appreciation of what Drupal can do for the University – not only through the Web Publishing Platform but also in a wider sense. Innovation and creativity come as standard (or out-of-the-box) in Drupal, it’s open to everyone and there’s a steady stream of new ideas which could benefit the University’s future approach to providing digital experiences to our diverse audiences.

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