When I predicted that there would be a big and concentrated effort to further improve Drupal's ease of use in 2008, I was cheating a bit ... The past months we've been preparing some formal usability testing for Drupal that will be conducted at the University of Minnesota Office for Information Technology's usability lab. The university has a professional usability lab that will allow us to record eye-tracking data and video which will be provided to the Drupal community. Très cool!
Chad Fennel and Cody Hanson of the University of Minnesota Libraries have taken an incredible lead in this; they secured the lab, they prepared test scenarios, they recruited test users, they are coaching us how to do usability research, and last but not least, they are footing part of the bills. Needless to say, this is a significant contribution to the Drupal project — and hopefully one that will have big impact on Drupal 7.
Needless to say, formal usability testing is only one way to make Drupal easier of use. There are a lot of usability findings out there already (example 1, example 2), and many of us know first-hand which changes need to occur to improve Drupal's usability. All it takes is a knack for usability, some development skills and a lot of time and effort. Ultimately, everyone can help — with or without a professional usability lab.
The past years, I've pushed hard to make usability reviews part of the development and patch review process. I strongly believe that usability reviews should be tightly integrated with the software development process; rapid usability feedback and incremental usability improvements allows us to build better software faster. And it is working — every major Drupal release has become significantly easier to use.
Nonetheless, there is a lot of work left to be done. I hope that the formal usability testing at the University of Minnesota Libraries will provide us with a fresh perspective and that it helps train the Drupal community's eye for usability. Because more than anything else, I want to us to flatten the Drupal learning curve.
More information about the usability testing will be made available shortly. The goal is to share some first results at DrupalCon Boston next month.