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DrupalCon Lille 2023 – A UXer’s perspective

Since presenting at DrupalCon in 2022 I have been contributing to Drupal’s marketing and usability initiatives. Returning to speak at DrupalCon 2023, I wanted to share what I’d learned, do some hands-on activities and encourage the community to apply UX principles to all things Drupal.

Coming back to DrupalCon with some experience contributing I was excited to deliver a new talk recognising the part UX can play in promoting Drupal, to run some Birds of a Feather (BoF) sessions and to take part in contribution day.

Read my related blog: Contributing to open source Drupal as a non-developer – reflections and projections

My talk ‘UX sells’ – directing Drupal’s solutions towards user-centred problems

Being active in the Drupal community as part of Promote Drupal and the usability meetings I’ve learned a lot about Drupal, both as a system and as a product. I’ve been struck by Drupal’s flexibility – evidenced by an ongoing commitment to making usability improvements – as well as its potential for innovation – evidenced by a constant stream of new projects, modules and solutions – for example, those pitched at DrupalCon Pittsburgh 2023:

Read more about the Pitch-burgh Innovation Contest on

I’ve come to realise Drupal is powerful enough to do anything, yet in the Promote Drupal group we often found ourselves struggling to ‘sell Drupal’ and articulate why Drupal is a superior content management system. Applying user-centred design thinking, it occurred to me that Drupal has all the solutions, yet our understanding of the problems its users want to solve is vague. My talk encouraged the Drupal community to develop a better understanding of the Drupal ecosystem we work in, to adopt Indi Young’s practical empathy mindset to get better acquainted with the problems and to adopt Teresa Torres’ opportunity solution mapping framework to join up solutions with problems for maximum impact.

Access UX sells: How we can all promote Drupal with an eco-system-led, human-centred approach on the DrupalCon Lille 2023 YouTube playlist

BoF session to publicise Promote Drupal

With Promote Drupal launched as a Strategic Initiative, there was an opportunity to encourage more of the community to get involved. I helped run a BoF to explain what the group does and share our current priorities – including the work to restructure, the re-branding initiative and case study development.

BoF: De-jargoning Drupalisms

As part of project to improve the Drupal administration user interface (admin UI) a card sort activity was run in July 2023, which required participants to group items from the admin UI in a way that made sense to them. This exercise revealed a number of terms which participants found confusing, and an issue was raised to locate these Drupalisms and attempt to describe them in plainer language. Recognising how this could benefit our understanding of Drupal and explaining what it can do for the University, Aaron McHale and I took the opportunity to work on this issue by running a BoF in which we encouraged attendees to discuss some of the common terms that caused confusion and, as a group, came up with alternate ways to describe them.

Drupalisms issue 3381734 on

Project Browser – writing microcopy about Drupal modules

Another of Drupal’s Strategic Initiatives highlighted at DrupalCon Lille was Project Browser – a project aimed at making it easier for site builders to find modules to implement required functionality. Volunteering at contribution day I described my skills and my background and was introduced to Project Browser Maintainers Leslie Glynn and Chris Wells who set me a task writing short, easy-to-understand sentences accurately describing the functionality of different modules. I found this an effective way to get to know some more modules as well as to practice my microcopy writing.

Other highlights from the DrupalCon Lille 2023 programme

There was a packed programme over the three days and happily, most sessions were recorded and are now available for free on a dedicated You Tube channel.

Access the DrupalCon Lille 2023 YouTube playlist

Several sessions stood out for me, described below.

Driesnote – light on tech heavy on storytelling

In DrupalCon tradition, Dries Buytaert, Drupal’s founder kicked off proceedings with his Driesnote speech. Playing on Drupal originating from ‘Dorp’ – the Dutch word for village – Dries used illustrative slides to weave a story of the challenges and opportunities for the Drupal Village and its Villagers, as it operates in a landscape alongside other CMS providers. He characterised several Drupal competitors – including React, Contentful, Squarespace, Wix and Adobe.

In response to the challenges posed by competitors, Dries went on to describe initiatives to improve the Drupal experience – making it easier to start (Project Browser), easier to build (admin and field user interfaces) and easier to maintain (Automatic code fixes and updates – targeting version 10.3). Citing some of the proprietary software malpractices, he formalised Drupal’s open source ethos and commitment with the Open Web Manifesto. He concluded with the launch of Drupal’s first marketing committee and pledge to invest in marketing, and encouraged the community to get involved with marketing Drupal by submitting case studies and marketing materials and completing a tree-test study to help restructure (a test which I devised as part of my work in the Promote Drupal group).

Access the Driesnote on the DrupalCon Lille 2023 YouTube playlist

Technical writing workshop – AmyJune Hine

Consistent with the storytelling bent of the Driesnote, AmyJune Hine’s workshop offered an excellent primer in getting started writing about and for Drupal. Acknowledging the difficulties getting started, AmyJune presented thought-provoking questions to brainstorm ideas for topics (including ‘What does working cross-functionally mean to you?’, ‘How does focusing on solutions help with your career?’, ‘How does your connection with nature help your perspective in tech?’). She went on to offer suggestions of formats to use to structure those ideas (including ‘Getting started’ guides, ‘How to/Tutorial’ articles, case studies and round-ups).

This session inspired me to think back to an idea I had to improve the way we talk about technology at the University, covered in my blog post:

How the University talks about technology – a new UX project to investigate technical language

Access the Technical writing workshop session recording on the DrupalCon Lille 2023 YouTube playlist

UX in action to improve Drupal: Dashboard, admin UI, Drupal out-the-box

As a UXer, I was delighted to see several sessions about user-centred improvements being made to aspects of Drupal. Cristina Chumillas and Christian López Espínola described the Dashboard initiative, which aimed to address the disorienting ‘blank page’ view people experienced when logging into their Drupal sites. Speaking with Sascha Eggenberger, Cristina also spoke about the card sort and usability testing work to improve the Drupal admin UI (described in relation to Drupalisms above) and it was heartening to see Lauri Escola include the double diamond in his session to explain the work on making Drupal a better out-the-box product.

Access So I logged in, now what? The Dashboard initiative welcomes you on the DrupalCon Lille 2023 YouTube playlist 

Access Next Drupal admin UI improvements on the DrupalCon Lille 2023 YouTube playlist

Access Making Drupal a Better Out-of-the-Box Product on the DrupalCon Lille 2023 YouTube playlist

Making the most of Drupal for structured content

One of Drupal’s strengths as a content management system is its ability to handle structured content. Often there is a requirement to publish the same content to multiple platforms and locations, maintaining a ‘golden copy’ and avoiding the need for cloning or copying and pasting – which runs the risk of there being different versions of the same content and a resulting poor user experience. Two talks covered this topic, giving different perspectives to consider. Simo Hellsten introduced the idea of ‘content prototypes’ as a way of managing creation of mass content, destined for different channels and audiences. Adopting a broader view, Michele Ann Jenkins gave an excellent talk on the development and use of taxonomies as a practical approach to implementing a connected content strategy, including considerations of governance and labelling conventions as well as selection of appropriate Drupal technology based on editorial workflows and end-user content-related tasks. Both talks resonated as one of our workstreams in the Web Publishing Platform is to provide solutions for reusable and tagged content in response to the needs of the University web publishers.

Access Defaults, cloning, referencing and content prototypes – editors’ UX for similar content creation on the DrupalCon Lille 2023 YouTube playlist

Access The Missing Link: Taxonomists and Taxonomy Governance on the DrupalCon Lille 2023 YouTube playlist

Reinforcing the potential and the benefits of open source

The Open Web Manifesto described in the Driesnote laid out principles for the open web including: freedom, decentralization, inclusion, participation and empowerment, which chimed with me as principles underpinning successful user-centred design.  For those principles to be realised in practice however, the manifesto recognised the need for the open web to ‘prove it’s a better web’ – citing ‘embodying the limitless innovation that can only come from collaboration’ and ‘earning people’s trust’ as contributing factors. Extending this theme, Jeffrey McGuire and Mathias Bolt Lesniak gave an excellent talk on the need to ‘Defend Free Open Source Software (FOSS)’ which reflected on what open source had achieved in the last two decades, highlighted the risks of proprietary software creating a ‘monoculture’, and extolled the benefits of societies not companies ‘owning the bricks’ in the open source model. The points they raised enhanced my appreciation of the open source model and the freedom and flexibility it affords to tailor to user needs.

Access Defend FOSS: From innovation to positive change, we need to remind the world what we’re about on the DrupalCon Lille 2023 YouTube playlist

Drupal meets AI – new potential awaits

AI has been a consistent theme of conferences in 2023 and DrupalCon Lille was no exception. Working in UX, and having a background in content design I have been following developments in AI and have been interested in its potential for removing bias  and human error, as well as the opportunity to automate repetitive processes to free up time for other more complex work. DrupalCon offered several sessions explaining and demonstrating the use of AI within Drupal giving food-for-thought for ways we may incorporate automation and AI in our use of Drupal at the University.

Access Drupal DXP meets AI: Unlocking the Full Potential of Digital Experiences on the DrupalCon Lille 2023 YouTube playlist 

Access AI assisted content editing with CKEditor5 & OpenAI in Drupal 10 on the DrupalCon Lille 2023 YouTube playlist

Access How we integrated AI as a new colleague on the DrupalCon Lille 2023 YouTube playlist


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