DrupalCon Prague 2022 – a content design and editorial perspective
Drupal is the main content management system used at the University, underpinning the bulk of our web estate. As a speaker at DrupalCon Prague 2022, I was able to share how we’ve worked with Drupal to develop the editorial interface of the new Web Publishing Platform, as well as learn more about this important system.
The new Web Publishing Platform (WPP), its predecessor, EdWeb and the University Design System are all built with Drupal. The editorial interface is a key focus of my work within the WPP and I pitched a talk to DrupalCon Prague 2022 to share the way we have been shaping the interface based on research with web publishers. I was fortunate to have my proposal accepted and was invited to attend the conference, where I learned lots about how Drupal is built and developed to support content design and editing.
Why a Content Designer was interested in DrupalCon
On the face of it, Drupal may appear to be a technical system and therefore only of relevance to developers. Gaining exposure to Drupal as part of the WPP project I started to recognise its importance in determining the overall form and functionality of both the WPP and the University web estate, and therefore I became interested in learning more about how it worked. I soon realised there was much to be learned and applied from user experience and content perspectives.
Systems knowledge helps inform design
Content design is part of user experience (UX) design, which aims to develop systems, services and products which respond to users’ needs and allow them to achieve their tasks. It is typically achieved by a process involving alternating divergent and convergent cycles, where research findings continually inform design. We have been adopting this process within both the WPP and Design System projects.
As the UXD process moves from ‘Define’ to ‘Refine’ stages, it becomes clear that meeting user needs depends on working effectively within certain constraints – for example, the parameters of systems being used. Systems knowledge can therefore help smooth the transition to effective user-centred design.
‘Get the beat of the system, listen to the wisdom of the system’ – Donella H. Meadows, ‘Thinking in Systems’
I recognised a gap in my knowledge of Drupal as a system and resolved to learn more, to help me understand the possibilities for shaping it in alignment with user needs at the University.
Chance to share research on the Drupal editorial experience
A key focus of my work on the WPP project has been the editorial interface of the new platform. I carried out initial research with web publishers to learn about their needs using EdWeb (built on Drupal 7)
Read more about web publisher research in the related blogs:
Having identified ways to improve the editorial experience, I was interested to know how easily Drupal 9 could support certain flows and functionality compared to Drupal 7. Accounts documenting research with editors using Drupal editorial interfaces seemed scarce, so I wanted share the research we had done, our motivations and what we had learned, as I felt this could be of interest to the wider Drupal Community to support ongoing development of Drupal 9 and beyond.
Presenting, attending and connecting
My talk ‘Design for design’ was attended by approximately 40 people. It was quite nerve-wracking to be up on stage in a real-life environment (having largely presented online for the past two years). I’d pitched for a 20 minute slot but soon realised this was too short for everything I’d wanted to cover. Supplying my slides later and joining the event app I was able to respond to requests for further information after my talk, and supply a recorded demo of our interface.
The programme included over 150 sessions organised into different strands including ‘Users & Editors’, ‘Agency & Business’, ‘Makers & Builders’ and ‘Open Web & Community’. Over the three days, I attended over 20 sessions from various strands, connecting with and learning from Drupal builders, developers, maintainers, users, agencies and advocates from around the world, from both the public and private sectors. I sought to attend talks on the topic of UX and the editor experience which are described here, but also attended other sessions, documented in an accompanying blog:
Content and editorial themes from DrupalCon Prague 2022
In the sessions I attended there was a range of interesting perspectives on content design and the editorial experience in Drupal. I’ve listed some of these below.
Dries’s pledge for content authoring and accessibility
Dries Buytaert is the founder of Drupal and his ‘Driesnote’ session is one of the core elements of DrupalCon. In his talk he took the opportunity to reflect on how far Drupal had come, and the challenges ahead. I’ve detailed some of the themes he covered in my accompanying blog and it was encouraging to see a pledge to ‘Keep modernising the content authoring experience’ and repeated reference to Drupal’s commitment to accessibility.
Sascha Eggenberger’s update on the Gin Admin Theme
Themes are an important concept in Drupal to determine the way site interfaces look and feel. An important Drupal Theme for the WPP is the Gin Admin Theme which underpins our editorial interface. Sascha Eggenberger, Senior Product Designer at GitLab, who created the Gin Admin Theme, ran a session to share what was new in Gin and what was coming next. Improvements included:
- A ‘design facelift’ which had refactored the codebase, finetuned the overall look and feel (and reduced code dependency),
- Reduced use of different font sizes and weights
- Removal of lots of CSS (which helped improve load times)
- Optimisation of vertical space (compared to Gin’s predecessor Theme, Claro)
- Simplification of the layout and option to collapse the right-hand side bar
It was encouraging to hear that future enhancements include an improved navigation experience (with fewer flyouts and more consistent alignment with other Drupal navigation patterns – for example in the Olivero Theme), and a toolbar focussed less on site building and more on managing content.
CKEditor upgrade from 4 -5
The upgrade of CKEditor 4 to CKEditor 5 was a recurring theme in the conference, mentioned as part of the Drupal Core Initiative Leads update and picked up in other sessions both in the ‘Makers & Builders’ and ‘Users & Editors’ strands. With CKEditor 4 reaching end of life in 2023 and CKEditor 5 confirmed as the WYSIWYG editor in Drupal Core and the default editor in Drupal 10, several talks covered the development of CKEditor 5, showcased aspects of its functionality and provided technical advice to upgrade from CKEditor 4 of CKEditor 5.
It was interesting to learn about the pathway to develop CKEditor 5, which had begun in 2014 as a contributed module, and had involved much rewriting code from scratch. From the demos given, I learned CKEditor 5 has the ability to facilitate more collaborative editing than previously possible – with the inclusion of features like comments, tracked changes and a more sophisticated revision history. It also has the potential to make editing easier, with the possibility of incorporating grammar and spell-checking, intelligent text predictions and autoformatting. Other features to note included the ability to preview styles in the editor before publishing content and ‘balloon panels’ to expose and check link URLs when adding hyperlinks within the editor interface.
Layout Paragraphs vs Gutenberg to improve the Drupal content editing experience
One of the strengths of Drupal as a CMS is its ability to handle structured content – enabling data to be shared and the functionality to ‘create once and publish everywhere’. This is made possible by Drupal’s configurable entities and fields, but the associated flexibility can mean the content authoring and editing experience in Drupal is seen to be complex compared to its competitors (for example, WordPress with its Gutenberg Editor). Although Gutenberg is available for Drupal, (covered by another session, linked below) using this could run the risk of taking site editors away from fully understanding the underlying Drupal set-up.
The Drupal module Layout Paragraphs is a content authoring tool which aims to make the editor experience more straightforward, and we have incorporated it in the editorial interface of the WPP. Justin Toupin of Aten Design Group, one of the maintainers of Layout Paragraphs, ran an interesting session covering the development of this module, its functionality and directions for the future.
Contributing to the Promote Drupal initiative
Meeting fellow user experience and content design specialists at the conference I learned about an initiative to improve the way Drupal is promoted to target audiences, in response to a call from Dries to better showcase what Drupal can do. The initiative is run by people volunteering their time to build and review wireframes of Drupal promotional webpages and test them with potential users. I was keen to become involved and lend my expertise as it presented an opportunity to contribute to Drupal, and in the process learn more about its potential, which would in turn help me appreciate further use-cases for Drupal at the University.
Watch the playlist, view the programme, read my other blog post
The programme for DrupalCon 2022 is available to access session outlines and other resources. All the recorded sessions are also available on a dedicated DrupalCon Prague 2022 playlist on YouTube. For more highlights from the conference, read my accompanying blog post.