Capstone Blog: Designing For Any And Every User | Progress Report #3

Posted on Fri, 11/06/2015 - 23:05

Since my last progress report, I’ve taken a bit of a detour in my project. In my last report, I talked about implementing a guided walk-through tour of the Open Eggheads website. While this is still a deliverable that I hope to finish in the near future, I felt the need to take a step back and focus first on a more urgent user need.

In designing the Open Eggheads platform, I initially planned to rely upon the Panels In-Place Editor (IPE) as a primary mechanism to ensure the highest ease-of-use for users of any level. Panels IPE (as a part of the Panels module) is included as part of the Panopoly distribution of Drupal. As explained on the Panopoly project page, Panels IPE allows for easy in-place page building: "Drag and drop customization of pages and nodes. Easily switch layouts, modify Views and Panels settings, change styles, and add generic widgets to display text, images, links, maps, submenus, video and spotlights across your site. No backend administration required!” To show just how powerful the Panels IPE is, here is a short demo video of how it can be used within the Panopoly distribution:

However, after thinking more about the use of Panels IPE more thoroughly, I realized that the interface it provides for page-building might still not be simple enough for the most novice users of Open Eggheads. If I am expecting any student to feel comfortable in editing their site—and thereby appeal to the widest audience possible—I must account for even the most timid of users and avoid limiting their ability to find Open Eggheads useful on some level.

As seen in the above demo video, Panels IPE itself takes some getting used to. Its user interface must be learned through experience, just like anything else. Granted, once the user understands the basic controls provided by Panels IPE, building pages for their site does become fairly trivial. However, I want to be sure to instill confidence in all first-time users, and only then gradually ease them into the Panels IPE workflow.

To do so, I needed to imagine an even simpler use case for Open Eggheads. That is, I wanted to think of the most basic use case for an Open Eggheads website. In my mind, such a site would include just one or two pages, displaying the student’s contact information, affiliation, research interests, photo, and CV. In essence, their Open Eggheads site would act as a simple personal landing page where their colleagues could quickly get a sense of who they are as a researcher. The pages displaying their data would be laid out automatically be default. The user would only need to fill out a single form to save their personal data to the site, which would then take care of the rest.

Screenshot of newly implemented Personal Data form

This form would save the data to Drupal’s database, which in turn would feed the data to the pre-formatted homepage of a user’s freshly installed copy of Open Eggheads. Later on, as the user becomes more and more comfortable with their site, they will be able to start using the Panels IPE and other tools provided by Open Eggheads, in order to build a more customized site suited to their specific needs. For example, they could begin using the Panels IPE to add content to or change the layout of the initial homepage populated with their personal data.

In this way, Open Eggheads will be providing an additional layer of abstraction in order to make novice users feel comfortable when first using their site, allowing them to quickly personalize their website. Then, as users gain more and more confidence in using their sites, they will be able to more fully avail themselves of all the customization options provided by the Open Eggheads distribution, and move beyond the initial abstraction layer described above.