Drupal's steep learning curve filters out far too many smart, motivated people who could benefit from Drupal. We see it all the time in the Drupal.org forums, in my "State of Drupal" surveys, on Twitter, when talking to customers, and on the web. Even though we've made significant progress with making Drupal easier to use, a lot of work is left to be done. With other content management systems such as Joomla! and WordPress making strides to catch up to Drupal in terms of development flexibility, if we want Drupal to remain competitive, we have a challenge we have to face: we need to create a user experience that makes it easier for people new to Drupal to discover all of its richness and power.

With the success of the drupal.org redesign in mind, I wondered if it would be possible for Mark Boulton and Leisa Reichelt of Mark Boulton Design (MBD) to help us improve usability in Drupal itself. They have done a tremendous job with the drupal.org designs that are currently being implemented, but why stop there?

Since one of Acquia's key goals is to help expand Drupal adoption, and improving Drupal's usability is key to that, I thought it would be right for Acquia to finance Mark and Leisa to help us work on Drupal 7, for a couple of months, too. The consensus among my colleagues was that hiring Mark and Leisa would be a both great way to help Drupal conquer the world, and a really good contribution Acquia could make to the Drupal community.

Mark and Leisa were both instantly excited about continuing their work with the community. Starting in March, they will spend time working on making Drupal 7 easier to use. We've asked them to do all their work out in the open, in the Drupal community, just like they did with the Drupal.org redesign, so that the community can be involved and give input every step of the way. We have also encouraged Mark to dare to envision wide-ranging, far-reaching usability improvements, rather than incremental usability changes on the status quo. This is a great chance for us to all collectively think "outside the box" about how great Drupal's user experience could be.

Both Mark and I have been in contact with key members of the Drupal usability group. They are going to be deeply involved in this effort by including Mark and Leisa in their planning and by giving feedback, guidance, and assistance. As a starting point, we've pointed Mark to the existing Drupal usability reports, and he has already been brainstorming with some members of Drupal's usability team about what aspects to work on and how to work together. Mark and Leisa will not be able to start before March, but it's important that this work starts as early as possible.

However, beautiful usability improvements are no good to anyone unless they have code behind them. Therefore, in addition to paying MBD, Acquia will also contribute a signficant amount of our own internal engineering time to the implementation of the mockups and ideas produced by Mark and Leisa. Their suggestions will be posted as patches to the drupal.org issue queue for community review, input, and refinement and Acquia will dedicate two or three full-time engineers to help implement suggestions from MDB and the usability team. It is too early to tell who exactly these engineers will be, but probably a combination of Gábor Hojtsy, David Rothstein, Barry Jaspan, and Paul Lovvik (our JavaScript wizard). Jeff Noyes, Acquia's UX designer, is going to participate as well, so we'll have a world-class team at work. We also hope that others will join us as partners in realizing these improvements, because alongside MBD and a few Acquia engineers, the more people from the Drupal community that collaborate and contribute to the effort, the better Drupal 7 will be for us all.

Now that we have Mark and Leisa, leaders from the Drupal usability group, and Acquia on board, we're finally ready to publicly announce this initiative and to proceed in an open and transparent way, involving everyone in the Drupal community. Mark and Leisa bring a lot of Drupal expertise to the table; they are armed with use data and test driven methodologies; they have a track record of working well with our community, so I think we're set up for success. This is an opportunity to get the community fired up about usability, and to bring more outside design and usability expertise into the project. And with your help, this should be a pretty awesome move for Drupal 7! :-)


ariyo132 (not verified):

Wow. Improving user experience? That's a very great news. I've been having difficulties in answering questions: "What's so special about Drupal? It's difficult to user anyway".

When I was in college, my professor told me, "Despite of all advances in technologies, the stories are ALWAYS about human." Call me a bookworm, but everytime I grab requirements from my clients, I must admit that my professor is right.

Well, congratulations for Mark and Leisa. I believe that Drupal 7 will be more beautiful and user friendly by having you guys!

webchick (not verified):


I'm so unbelievably excited about this. :D I'm hugely looking forward to Drupal 7's user experience getting the same level of love and attention that Drupal 7's developer experience has received throughout its lifecycle to date.

Thanks so much Dries and Acquia for helping make this happen! :D

anonymous (not verified):

WOOHOO! (It's surprising you didn't save this announcement for DC/DC)

Can't wait to see what happens next...

steve (not verified):

This is awesome news for Drupal 7. I really like what Mark and Leisa did with the d.o redesign and look forward to seeing their work in Drupal 7. Thank you MBD, Acquia and the Drupal community!

M Butcher (not verified):

This is indeed great news! Mark and Leisa have clearly done top-notch work, and I feel like I've learned a lot merely as an observer of their methods and suggestions.

Jeff Noyes is, I'm sure, excited to have so much momentum develop behind his initiatives. I can't wait to see the results.

Ximo (not verified):

This is almost too good to be true :D

I had played with the thought of Mark Boulton working on the Drupal product, but I never guessed that it could actually happen! With the acummulated knowledge and experience of Jeff, Mark and Leisa, Drupal 7 will surely be a bomb.

This part in particular made me excited:
We have also encouraged Mark to dare to envision wide-ranging, far-reaching usability improvements.

I'm looking forward to participating in this project.

Thank you, Dries! And thank you Acquia!

Roger (not verified):

This is really good news. Even though after a time you get 'usabilitied' to drupal in comparision with wordpress (what has a more specialised function) there has to be an improvement for the end-user. Looking at the ease of creating content in wp after install this should be a goal to accomplish perhaps with some kind of first time 'don't bother me with too much stuff' beginner interface.

I'm looking forward for the progress Mark and Lisa will bring here. :-)


Anonymous (not verified):

I think this is a really good development. Though, I feel this may require a mindset change in the mind of Hard Core drupal developers by putting the need of users (non-coders/developers) ahead of developers.

I feel we have had plenty of Usability improvement suggestions in past, but many of them have been sidelined due to us putting the developer needs ahead of users.

If we hope to successfully compete with Joomla and Wordpress, we need to put users at a higher pedestal. This may also mean getting the things out, even though sometimes they may not be perfect from developer's perspective.

Jeff Eaton (not verified):

This is definitely exciting news!

I am a bit concerned, though, that distributed work already exists in the Drupal community in this area. The problem has never been figuring out how to simplify and streamline Drupal's UX: it's been settling the argument, "Which User's Experience are we streamlining?" Site builders, developers, content editors and managers, and end-users all have different needs that are often in conflict with each other.

Does this funded project imply a new "buck stops here" authority for which use cases will become the ones core is optimized for?

ChrisBryant (not verified):

I'm excited to see Drupal's usability improve as well!

Jeff makes an extremely good point here that hopefully can be addressed.

Also, since this arrangement was put directly in place by Acquia, wouldn't it have been better to donate the money to the Drupal Association and have the association hire MBD? Maybe that isn't logisitically possible, but just something to think about.

Anonymous (not verified):

That's a really good question. Am I the only one who noticed that ChrisBryant's comment is the only one that mentions the Drupal Association?

Dries, please clarify who the "we" is when you say "we decided to hire Mark Boulton to help with Drupal." Isn't this the kind of thing that the Drupal Association is set up to do?


Two reasons:

  1. There is a separation of powers between the Drupal Association and the Drupal community (which Acquia is part of). The Statutes of the Drupal Association define that the Drupal Association has no control over Drupal development or the Drupal roadmap of either Drupal core or the various contributed modules. For example, the Drupal Association cannot mandate that "Views must go in Drupal 7 core" and neither can it force the image module maintainers to, say, change the storage model for images. The purpose of the Drupal Association is well-defined; it is to support the Drupal community in terms of infrastructure, event organizing, promotion, etc ... but not in terms of actual feature development.
  2. Acquia donating usability improvements through Mark Boulton is not any different from any other company making contributions to Drupal. For example, Bryght and CivicSpaceLabs were the driving force behind Drupal's installer and install profile technology in Drupal 5, 2bits was the driving force behind watchdog improvements in Drupal 6, Palentir is the driving force behind Drupal 7's new database abstraction layer, etc. The list goes on and on. Drupal is built by the contributions from both companies and volunteers. Changing that model would be a disaster -- it wouldn't scale. What matters is that everything is developed in an open and transparent way with the help and input from the Drupal community at large.

I hope that answered your question!

Manuel Garcia (not verified):

Jeff Eaton has a very good point there!

Also, what about the code-freeze/release time? I think with all the things going on for D7, which I am so very excited about, we should give the community more time to swallow all this... thoughts?

slantview (not verified):

So does this mean a new core theme for D7?! Count me in for excited for what this means for Drupal.

How about we start with an admin configurable dashboard for /admin that can change based on roles :)

Anyway, thank you guys very much!

Larry Garfield (not verified):

It had to happen sooner or later. Sweet news!

I definitely agree with Eaton's point that there is no one user profile to optimize for the way there is with a single-purpose tool like Wordpress. We can't optimize just for one user (that's what we do now, and that user is "core devs building sites with Drupal"), but I also don't think that explicit "modes" with different UIs is a good approach. And of course there's the fact that everything needs to be extensible, given how modules always have their own stuff to add.

If anything I'd say this will be harder than the d.o redesign was. I still think it's a very smart move, though, and having Mark and Leisa back for it will be highly awesome.

ecclesiastic (not verified):

++1 Jeff Eaton

Though, Site builders, content editors and managers, and end-users are all (generally) dealing with developers. And in my experience, Drupal is light years ahead of Ruby / Cake / WordPress in the realm of developing (though, it is different).

So if clients are the "bread and butter" of developers, lets put the clients first!

~ ecclesiastic

IntoxiNation (not verified):

SlantView - I like that idea. I have actually done similar things for clients in the past, just so they can find stuff easier.

What might be worth looking at is a dashboard idea like that, but along the lines that Adobe has gone to. How about a drop down box where you select the role in which your working in (Site Builder, Editor, Content, Site Admin, etc.), then that puts the proper blocks in place on the dashboard. Of course make all those sections customizable.

As far as the transparency Dries mentioned - that is why I love Drupal. I have worked with other open source software in the past and they make all these changes, but the community doesn't get to see them until beta time. No involvement in the actual design process, so if you are developing plugins, etc. for that software you are pretty much going into things blind between releases.

Ryan Dempsey (not verified):

Nice! Drupal is my preferred CMS, but I float between it and WordPress for smaller client sites because of WordPress 2.7's great UI improvements. Hopefully with Drupal 7 we can be an all Drupal shop again.

sun (not verified):


Though my bet is that this initiative will basically just move a bunch of contrib modules into Drupal core.

We have many Usability-improving modules in contrib, so there are plenty of concepts and approaches already.

That said, I just realized that we do not have a "Usability" category: https://www.drupal.org/project/Modules

So the next best thing we can do is to add this category and announce it on all channels, so developers of Usability-related modules can add this category - and MBD would have a great, initial list of _possible_ Usability improvements.

Gerard McGarry (not verified):

I was just saying something similar to my wife the other day about setting up Drupal. It's such a lot of work to configure and get going.

I've been working on a new Drupal site, and have spent so much time building content types and making everything 'just so' that I'm reluctant to open it up to the public in case their content doesn't match the quality of work and time I put into the site! Not joking!

If Mark's reading this, or indeed anyone involved in Drupal usability(!), some wizard-based thinking might be needed - for new content types: a proper workflow from field types to taxonomy (use existing taxonomy or create new?) to comments settings to publishing options. Then wrap it all up in a clear, easy to read overview screen - similar to what the Views module gives.

Comment moderation - as mentioned by someone the other day on Drupal Planet - could be improved 1000-fold by simply taking a leaf out of WordPress's book and allowing Ajax-style moderation, edits and replies. Frankly, it's a pain in the backside moderating comments in Drupal.

But it's good to see Mark on board with this - I've been following his work for years, and Drupal is in good hands.

Koen Van Isterdael (not verified):

Hi Dries,

this is great news indeed! Thanks Acquia!

I definitely hope the main concern will be the User Experience for the unexperienced content editors (and less on the webmasters and administrators). For a course I followed on usability design, I found a lot of difficulties in this category of users...

As a Drupal integrator, my main worry is how well the clients can work with Drupal. We always try to create a personalized user experience for each client, so they only see what they need to, to prevent an information overload.

I look forward to the first results!

Julien (not verified):

Thinking big and out of the box instead of incremental usability improvement is very much needed.

Streamlining won't be enough, if the goal is to make a step ahead.

We were talking about ideas similar to the "custom dashboard" IntoxiNation is suggesting a few weeks ago with a couple of members of the drupal french community.

Drupal probably don't need to plan an UX for every user, but to lay out an UX framework that allow each user to set a dedicated UX.

Anonymous (not verified):

Dear Dries,
I think that many of unknown and anonymous users of Drupal as users on Drupal.org admire your career from a little "David" climbing the world of business. Many of your thoughts and Ideas are going to be implemented by 1000s of Drupal's evangelist out there. I was one of them earlier and my modest advise as long as you are the Leader in Your Community, please do not forget to give a new print to your life enterprise giving an eye to the rights and needs of noods in and out your Community, where ever you might meet them. You may one Day become a "Polyphemus" and be overwhelmed by a new young "David".


vermario (not verified):

That's simply great news. I feel guilty each and every time I have to resort to WordPress for technically-challenged clients (ehm...) :)

By the way, I think the last comment meant "Goliath". Poor Polyphemus had problems with that Ulysses guy, not David.

Roger (not verified):

Lets quickly go the next step and make Drupal entirely wysiwig.
Like this:

Step 1.
Set up an Admin system and a viewer system
The Admin system contains those who can modify, alter, change look and feel and or data.

Viewer system - view only or view and comment.

To create a web site there would be no need for starting themes.
Step 2.
Create page.
Drag and drop blocks on to a page to create content placements.
Headers, Content Menus and footers, etc.
Exactly like is done in Scribus DTP.

2a. Nominate users for the page and permissions.

Step 3.
Create fields in a one step process, then drag and drop them onto separate pages created for data input, output and printing.
Simply drag a rectangle onto a page, a dialog pops up which requires completion of all the necessary data table details instead of the current 2 or 3 step process.

Step 4.
Create Home or Primary menu structure which becomes the indexing system for a book.

Step 5.
Create a book:
Drag and drop the created pages into the book in the order required.