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Nicolibrarian explores the secret life of information

How usable is WordPress? (Part X – Conclusions)

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In the course of this project, and over these 10 blog posts, I’ve explored both the back-end interface of the free, hosted version of WordPress from as well as tried my hand at some of the usability techniques that make up the field of interaction design/user experience/usability/et al:

  • I chose one method of evaluation,
  • I conducted a comparative cognitive walkthrough,
  • I did one user test,
  • I made three iterations of possible improvements,
  • and throughout I called on readings and ideas from those with more experience in the field than me.

And yet…there are always weaknesses.

This work, as illustrative as it has been for my personal learning (I can’t say it enough, this blog is a personal learning space), cannot come close to understanding all the weaknesses and development areas inherent in the WordPress interface. In fact, usability is something that is truly never done – as a systematic and ongoing process, usability for WordPress has streteched long before this series and will continue long after it. Issues in my process have included:

  • This work was done alone. Working in a team would surely have produced stronger results.
  • Personas were not fully developed for this work and as such, at times, the analysis has likely bent in favor of my own biases.
  • Many other methods and tools – such as heuristic analysis, further user studies, et al. – could have been applied here. Knowing which tools to use and for what ends is perhaps the key to effective usability/user experience work.
  • This work was done, in many regards, without the formal and explicitly stated constraints normally imposed on user experience projects – be those constraints time, money, human energy, et al. As my lecture notes say, design is a balance of constraints, opportunities, goals, and it always has issues. A context in which to conduct this work (beyond for a class assignment, and to learn, and maybe get a little low-hanging fruit) and an awareness of *real* constraints (as would happen in interaction with coders) would surely impact the thinking done here.

There were also things I wish I’d had time to get to.

It’s always hard to end a project – but thank goodness for deadlines – lest work never be finished! There are several things for me – and heck, for you, and the whole WordPress community – to address, both with the interface and with my own process.  Each of these areas are as complex as the issues I was able to address in my redesign, and some more so:

Color & White Space

The WordPress interface is very gentle when it comes to colors – and perhaps rightfully so – but the judicious use of contrast could help the user navigate the interface better by providing more memorable navigation signposts. Gently contrasting and complimentary colors – such as those found on page 186 of the Web Style Guide – could help give the back end more memorability than the nearly monochromatic to two-toned options now available. There’s also the online Color Scheme Designer to help in choosing a scheme. (Thanks to my classmate Carrie for that resource.) This may also help the display on laptops and mobile devices, both of which have known problems with low-contrast interfaces. The work I’ve begun to do with color is only a small start.

I definitely want to underscore the point above about memory – after all, memorability is one of Nielsen’s 5 areas of usability (p. 26 – the others being learnability, efficiency, errors, and satisfaction). Because there is so much to remember in the interface – where was that setting again? – one use of color may be in helping the user navigate – maybe making wayfinding easier through use of contrasting color. WordPress is very subtle right now in its indication of “where you are” – could color be a solution? Or breadcrumbs?


Might using more overt signals to let users know "where they are" in the site navigation - like breadcrumbs - be helpful to users?

Those Tricksy Disappearing Bits!

I can only assume that WordPress makes use of “disappearing” elements in an attempt to de-clutter what is already a busy interface (e.g. the arrows that indicate a menu can be expanded). And yet important menu options such as depicted below also exhibit this annoying appear-on-mouse-over/disappear otherwise behavior. In the trade-offs between novice, infrequent user, and expert, I believe the scales tip in favor of leaving these items visible. They’re very helpful to novices and infrequent users, and cause the expert no harm. (Also note the helpful use of color in the “Trash” text – and yet this color is hidden most of the time!)


The above menu (near arrow) only appears there when mouse is there. Is this necessary, and would novices be less frustrated if they did not vanish?

Things I haven’t done but (am guiltily admitting) I should

Surely if you haven’t already thought “Why isn’t she engaging the WordPress community on this? Doesn’t she know there’s a lot of discussion about this on the Forums?” you ought to think it now. One of my main reasons for choosing an open-source project was so that I could (potentially) impact the larger user community, but that the inevitable demands of life have prevented me from engaging there. I very much look forward to starting to engage in the WordPress community and look forward to reading about many of these issues that have surely already been discussed.


I have not yet delved into the WordPress community forums - but may dip my toe in and see what, if anything, I can contribute.

Helping the Help Section

As found in my user study, the help section is confusing and would likely be a candidate for redesign efforts.

So, ultimately, how usable is WordPress?

The answer to the question posed by the title of this series is, as can be expected, not straightforward. WordPress is a robust tool for blogging, and even a lightweight CMS. It represents a next step in blogging software with its use of CMS, the open-source community’s contributions in templates, and the ability to customize nearly everything (though the back end remains relatively static!). The trade-off made is that the interface has a steeper learning curve, and with so many options, “even an expert user may be quite novice with respect to many parts of the system” (Nielsen, p. 45). In a day and age where any prospective blogger has myriad options for tools, WordPress may be daunting and frustrating for beginner users or those who use the interface infrequently. Considering these user groups may be in the interest of WordPress if it seeks to attract more users and continue to be “competitive” in this market.While WordPress may intentionally enjoy a niche populated by more savvy users, the perception of difficulty can hinder it. As Nielsen says on p. 34, “User have been known to refuse to use a program because the manual was too big,” – or in this case, the interface to busy. Or as Cooper puts it, on page 45 of About Face 3:

Our goal should be neither to pander to beginners nor rush intermediates into expertise. Our goal is threefold: to rapidly and painlessly get beginners into intermediacy, to avoid putting obstacles in the way of those intermediates who want to become experts, and mos of all, to keep perpetual intermediates happy as they stay firmly in the middle of the skill spectrum.

I have even started to wonder – is “How Usable is WordPress” even the right question? If usability and user experience design is a continuum of processes that precedes, overlaps, and can continue indefinitely through the iterative process, perhaps a more savvy question would be “What are current usability challenges in WordPress?” or “A Usability Check-Up for WordPress.” Both these questions get to the ongoing nature of this work, rather than implying a definitive answer to a set question.

I’d like to wrap up by inviting you to help me in my iterative learning process. What did you think of my work? What questions come up for you in reading this series? What did I miss, did I misinterpret anything, was my presentation clear, and was there a better way to do things? Whether you’re head of User Experience Research at Google or just a casual reader, I’d love your comments and insights, positive, critical, or inbetween. Feel free to comment on any post (including this one) or drop me a line at

Many thanks for reading!


This post is part of the ten-part series called Is WordPress Usable?

The series documents my learning process in attempting to systematically identify usability problems in, and suggest improvements to, the blogging software as might be done in the emerging field of User Experience.  This project was undertaken as part of LIS590IIL, a class held in the Graduate School of Library and Informaton Science (GSLIS) at the University of Illinois during Fall of 2009.


Written by nicolibrarian

December 15, 2009 at 11:59 pm

Posted in UX/IxD Portfolio

Tagged with , , , ,

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