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Usability Testing In WordPress Help Us Help WordPress

This is a personal request from your user, a rallying cry from a compatriot. I personally love WordPress. I make my living from it. The average user, though, couldn’t care less about it. They just want to run their business, tell their family history, organize their church, share their photos or live their life online with a minimum of impedance. In its evolution from simple blogging tool to CMS, framework and software ecosystem, WordPress is losing its way. It needs us to help bring it back and cultivate simple genius.

Usability for WordPress by Modern Tribe1

My agency married WordPress in 2007. We’d been dating for a number of years but were still seeing others: some serious flirtation with Joomla, a blind date with Drupal, a summer romance with CMSMS, even a steady five-year stint with a custom CMS that we lovingly named Rocinante (after Don Quixote’s loyal steed).

Further Reading on SmashingMag: Link

We tied the knot with WordPress for one single reason: about six to nine months after most of our projects, we would get the fateful call. “The only person who really understands how to use the website you built just left the company, and we need someone to train us!” It was almost inevitable, except on WordPress. No one ever called for help after a WordPress project except to share their excitement and book the next project. They just figured it out. It was easy and obvious and beautiful. Our clients loved it, and that was something you could grow a business on.

Then, WordPress started to grow up. New features like the menu manager, theme editor and sidebar widgets made WordPress more robust but more complicated. The ecosystem of plugins exploded. WordPress plugins are harder to use than they should be. Ask your users. We did. It was quite illuminating and a hint embarrassing. We decided to act on Tom Ewe’s call to arms6 and lead by example:

“I find it astonishing that WordPress developers haven’t worked harder to create usability guidelines for plugin development. Even experienced WordPress users are often left guessing as to where they should go to work with a new plugin.

One of the key drivers of WordPress’ success has been plugins, and yet they are not actually that easy to use. They appear as being stapled onto WordPress, as opposed to integrating seamlessly. Surely there should be some common usability rules when it comes to plugin development?”

Tom Ewe7

We Lack Conventions, And This Is Why It’s A Problem Link

Three weeks ago, we brought on Joyce to our customer team at Modern Tribe8. She’s smart, she has a real power-user’s/light themer’s grasp of WordPress, and she had never used our free plugin, The Events Calendar9, nor any other of our add-ons. She came back after looking them over and said, “This is far harder to set up than it should be.” I asked her whether she had read the new user primer or the set-up instructions. “No, I didn’t. I bet most of your users don’t either.” I had to admit that Joyce was probably right. Rather than try to list all of the things that she thought might or might not work, she pointed me to Steve Krug’s SxSW talk “Rocket Surgery Made Easy.” I couldn’t turn it off. I’ll boil it down to a few paragraphs for you, but if you develop a plugin or theme or have a product business, this is a must hear.

Krug argues that hiring usability experts is unnecessary (heck, let’s be honest: most of us don’t do it anyway). The real value of a usability test is in getting together (ideally with sushi) and observing the experience, not hearing an expert’s interpretation. Within 15 minutes of watching the first user try to use our plugin, a handful of long-running arguments were resolved and some incredibly simple hurdles were exposed. I’ll walk you through the process that we followed for a remote usability test of The Events Calendar.

Our Remote Usability Test: Step-By-Step Link

  • Total time invested: 6 hours
  • Set-up: 1 hour
  • Testing: 3.25 hours
  • Notes: 0:45 minutes
  • Team review: 1 hour
  1. Find three participants. We had enough users and visitors that a blog post generated about 15 willing offers. We gave away a free copy of The Events Calendar Pro in exchange for participation. Make sure that the criteria for participation are explicit. Krug insists that you really don’t need more than three users, and that turned out to be spot on. By the third user, we were accurately guessing where they would fail. Schedule the test to last about 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the tasks, and give yourself time in between to clean up your notes and deal with other details.
  2. Think of some process or features you want to explore. We were curious to see how first-time users experience our core Events plugin. With that in mind, we made a series of nine steps that we knew were pretty common for setting up the calendar. Make sure to write them out, and give goal-based instructions, not actual steps. Think, “Create a new event,” rather than “Click the new events menu to make an event.”Steps for Testing The Events Calendar 1st Time User Experience10
    Here are the steps we chose for our usability test to explore the first-time user’s experience.
  3. Set up a domain with WordPress and your plugin or theme on it. If you are testing a plugin, decide whether the problem or feature set that you defined in step 2 is best served by a fairly vanilla build (for example, 2011 theme + minimal plugins + no content) or by a more real-world build (perhaps use your demo content if you have one or a user’s website backup). Configure the whole website precisely for the first step. Run through it once entirely to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything obvious.
  4. Back up the database of the website so that you can restore between tests.
  5. Grab a copy of Join.me11 or your favorite screen-sharing or VoIP tool (such as GoToMeeting12 or Adobe Connect13). We found that Skype just wasn’t stable enough to carry us through the screen-sharing portion of our test run. functioned amazingly well, except for an issue with voice echo caused by laptop sound cards during one test. The fact that it was free was appealing. Make sure that both screen-sharing and voice are available in whatever set-up you choose and can be recorded together. We used ScreenFlow14 to record the test so that it could be reviewed later.
  6. Do a quick test run with someone on your team (or your mom), and make sure that the kinks are worked out.
  7. Get the whole team ready and present. Do whatever you can to get people to participate. Everyone on our team who participated was blown away by the experience. Buy them fancy snacks or digital beer. Fire up a chat session if your team is remote (one that the test participant is not privy to) so that your team can chat freely. If you are co-located, make sure the team is not in the room where the test is taking place. Twelve people hovering over someone’s shoulder will unnerve even the most confident person.Discussing test as it happens with the team15
    Discussing the user’s choices and challenges with the developers in real time.
  8. The introduction and set-up are key. Krug has a great script16 that we just followed. The first key: explain to the participant that the plugin is being tested, not them. There is no wrong or stupid choice. If something is hard or confusing, it’s our fault and we apologize. Secondly, encourage the participant to speak out loud and share their thoughts; i.e. provide a guided monologue. Give them a copy of the steps (paste them into the chat session or email them beforehand), and read them through together once.
  9. Read a step. Watch. Shut up (bite tongue). The goal is to watch them as if you weren’t there, so don’t help them. This can get crazy awkward, but observing the various choices they make in trying to accomplish a goal becomes very informative. Consistently ask questions to get them to speak out loud, such as “What are you thinking?” and “What did you expect?”Watching user 2 during the usability test.17
    Observing user 2 figure out where to add events to her menu. (Large version18)
  10. Have the moderator and the people observing take notes on what they see, and discuss together.
  11. Once all of the steps were completed, we asked a bunch of probing questions. We were surprised by how much two users employed the admin bar, so we asked more about that. We were curious why no one clicked the tutorials, despite having the answer in the title. And on and on.
    Changed tutorials from a blog loop to an organized page.19

    Usability has to do with more than what’s in a plugin’s admin settings. We probed why none of the users took advantage of the tutorials. It turned out that a blog loop has no useful organization, so we made a quick page to group the posts by topic. (Large version20)
  12. Time to pay the participant in money, karma or free goods and get ready for the next test. Reset the website’s database.
  13. Take some time to condense your notes. Ask everyone who observed to pick the three most important things that can quickly be fixed based on the test. The goal is not to do a redesign; we are looking for quick course corrections. Then we test again in a new cycle.
    Notes from test of user 1.21

    Notes were broken down into observations, user recommendation and bugs. (Large version22)

Findings From Our Tests Link

A number of our major debates were instantly answered. For example, we had had a prolonged disagreement about the placement of the menu item for the plugin’s settings. The majority of the development team felt that it belonged in WordPress’ main “Settings” tab because that is a de facto standard. A minority of developers and all of the community team thought that putting it in the submenu for the Events custom post type would be more intuitive.

Both sides had great arguments. For the test, we put it in the WordPress settings, and then we watched three users in a row fail to find it there in a reasonable timeframe. One found it from the top admin toolbar (we put it there, too), one eventually looked in WordPress’ “Settings,” and one gave up despite looking right at it three times. Standards are great, but we all had to admit that functionality has to supersede a poor standard. We explored putting it in both places, but ultimately we decided to move it to the Events menu for now due to technical limitations.

Moved settings to events cpt menu from general WordPress settings menu.23
We moved the “Settings” menu item from WordPress’ general “Settings” menu to the menu for the Events custom post type, which is where our users expect to find it, despite WordPress’ standards.

We also saw how hard a time users had finding the events calendar on the front end of the website, despite it being in five locations. By seeing where people looked for it, we came up with a game plan that took five minutes to implement, and we hope it will make it a whole lot more intuitive.

Added view calendar links throughout the plugin.24
We added “View calendar” links to the admin bar at the top of the “Events” menu and in the settings.

The usability test was so valuable that Paul, one of the developers, asked if we could do it every month. Usability testing has, without a doubt, provided the best feedback we have ever gotten on our product, it cost very little, and it has now been added to the monthly production schedule. We will be testing these updates next week to see if they truly did improve the experience.

I’m continually amazed by a community’s ability to reach the same conclusion at the same time. Last week, Dave Martin posted for the first time25 to the core UX team’s blog:

I’m just getting my feet wet, and quite honestly haven’t a clue where to get started, so I thought I’d set up a quick user test (I’m a big fan of user testing). I set up a temporary WP install, and ran a user from through a couple scenarios.

Check out the video. It almost hurts to watch her struggle. I can’t tell you how grateful I am to see the core team paying attention as well and engaging quickly. It is a great start.

Call For WordPress Human Interface Guidelines Link

The average website has over five plugins installed (according to PressTrends) and often a theme options panel. For a great experience to continue throughout the website as people actually experience it, we need to establish strong standards for the rest of the community to follow.

I am calling all WordPress plugin developers and themers. You don’t need to guess what your users might want or how they will experience your product. Just watch them. We know it: if we focus on usability, stability and then value, we can make products that users will line up for.

To the core WordPress team and the community at large: Let’s get together and create WordPress human interface guidelines for those who contribute by providing plugins and themes for the world to use. Apple gave us a rock26 and upon it built a foundation that few can deny. Google finally got around to it with Ice Cream Sandwich27, and I expect to see drastic improvement in the wild west that is the Android application landscape. Help us help WordPress.

In the words of Matt Mullenweg when he saw Dave’s first post:

Thank you very much for this, I think more frequent and more transparent testing will allow us to make much better informed product and UX decisions. If we do this right we should see the videos get better and better (shorter and less confusion) from release to release.

Code is poetry. So should be your user’s experience.



Footnotes Link

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  24. 24 /wp-content/uploads/2012/07/view-calendar.png
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Lead indie teams in UX/UI, web, mobile & product design. Freelance evangelist. Gov 2.0 advocate. WordPress contributor. Surfer. Traveler. Dad.

  1. 1

    Excellent post!

  2. 2

    So I started reading an article that I thought would lead me to where we can help you to help WordPress but then got sidetracked into an ad for your (rather good I might say) plugin.

    Did the obvious/simplicity of the article get lost into a write up of your testing process (which is also very handy)?

    I’m confused!

    EDIT: Ah! Found it:
    “To the core WordPress team and the community at large: Let’s get together and create WordPress human interface guidelines for those who contribute by providing plugins and themes for the world to use.”

    • 3

      Hey Lee – I could see how it might read that way. Fair enough. That wasn’t really my point though and I hope it wasn’t lost.

      I was trying to explain that plugins and themes are as much WordPress as the core is from the perspective of our users. We need to make sure that the experience we create on top of WordPress is an intuitive one. We also need to gather as a community and develop some viable standards that people can count on.

      • 4

        Two suggestions for developers to that end:

        1. Develop with WP_DEBUG on and take care of those Notices!
        2. Add action/filter hooks in your own plugins so that other developers can extend functionality in a maintainable way.

        • 5

          Jeff – I totally agree.

          I’ve been thinking over time that plugins should focus on stability, usability and usefulness. There is a deep thirst in the WP user community for an experience we can trust. I can’t tell you the number of plugin that I turn on and throw errors let alone notices. Nothing hurts my trust more than that.

          As for extensions, preach it! The interesting challenge that it implies though is one of backwards compatibility. As people build upon your code base, you begin to need to pay more attention to deprecated tags, older base version of the platform among other things or too many pieces fall out of sync. This is hard among our own framework internally let alone when collaborating with the community.

          • 6

            Thanks Shane.

            I think there are too many users out there who don’t care about the code under-the-hood. They find the plugin that matches their workflow, or modify their own workflow to fit how a plugin works. They don’t complain about it when they should (it IS free, after all) and everyone just moves on.

            You’re right about extensions. Backwards compatibility can be an issue, but there’s no reason that a developer can’t halt a version, come up with “Refactored plugin 2.0” and continue from there.

            It’s hard enough supporting one version that works on multiple shared-hosting configurations. In fact, the plugin coding standards that WP suggests have become my go-to reference for maximum compatibility: full php open tags, no echo shorthand. I’ve let that slip before and ripped hair out trying to reproduce what is an obvious bug in retrospect.

            I think that elevating the standard of plugins we build is worth these other potential problems.

            I’m not affiliated with the developer in any way, but I really like Advanced Custom Fields as an example of what the plugin community *should* be producing.

    • 7

      I have to agree with Lee here.

      Same thing, started reading with interest and by the time I reached the half of this article I realized this is just a nicely marketed plug-in ad.

  3. 8

    I kind of wished that WP would go the drop down menu like – one of the first plugins I go for(in reply to the interface guideline mainly).

    • 9

      Derek, I kind of like that pattern myself. The challenge we’ve found with it comes when you begin to have a rich set of custom post types active. You quickly run out of space. I know that won’t hurt a lot of sites, but we work with some seriously large media empires periodically and they have a lot of menu items.

  4. 10

    Drupal could supplant WP as the defacto standard if they, too, followed this recipe. I find Drupal to be more flexible than WP, but the admin (as accurately depicted in this article) is too bulky for the average user to simply “figure out”.


  5. 11

    Frank Peters

    August 8, 2012 1:02 pm

    Thank you for such a great post

  6. 12

    I think the point may be that WordPress itself could benefit from a user interface study and improvements on strictly a user interface side. Without that, it is hard to force implementation on a plugin. You found in your study the settings menu isn’t the best place to find settings for individual plugins. What if WordPress thought the best place for your settings was in the WordPress Settings menu item and implemented standards to force it there?

    I must admit, I still struggle to figure out at times who is in charge of WordPress and who makes decisions on the framework. I’m sure I could find out somehow, I’m not suggesting the info is hidden. But as a open-source project I struggle to understand the motivation behind further improvements and who would pay for a large user interface study if it was decided that was necessary?

    • 13

      Dealing with WordPress’ admin section seems to be a bit of a debacle at times. Seems like it is all over the place. It has nice features like the drag and drop menu system. But the fact that I have to go into each category to see each page in each section is kind of a mess.
      I work a lot with Umbraco and have done some work with WordPress. Umbraco sets it’s tree up like a file tree, like on your computer, where you can see all categories, posts, and pages in one tree. Which is nice, because than the admin or someone not a developer, can easily find the page or post they are looking for. That is one of my biggest complaints about WordPress is the inability to see all my pages at a glance. Searching and digging for pages is kind of a night mare.

      The widgets are a nice feature in WordPress, and this may be the way PHP is, but having to register the widget, and everything that goes with adding a widget to a page, seems like more of a pain, rather than just being able to plug and play the widget.
      I definitely think the admin section needs help in the way of usability. The more it wants to become a CMS the more muddled WordPress seems to be getting. It seems like it is starting to Frankenstein itself.

      One of my favorite features is the ability to theme and use child themes, but other than that, seems to be becoming more of a hodge-podge rather than a serious competitor in the CMS world. There are a lot more coming out each week with a lot more features and easier interfaces, WordPress, I can see may start losing a lot of ground.

      One more gripe of mine is short-codes, they seem like a nice idea, but seriously, a general user that is not a developer, has not clue what the heck a short-code is or even how to use them. They could easily delete it by the admin by accident, there is not a real drag and drop feature for a short-code or a short-code manager built in. That is one thing I have no idea why it is still in WordPress. Pretty much if you are a developer you know what it does, but for the general content manager, it means nothing.

      Anyways, WordPress is nice but it is definitely seeing is limitations now a days.

      • 14

        I couldn’t agree more. I’ve developed a some wordpress sites myself and to be honest I’ve never been convinced of the cms angle. The saying comes to mind when all you have is hammer evrything looks like a nail. Are we all just running to wordpress because it’s free an ubiquidous?

        Recently I’ve been using a cms called Perch for smaller client sites. For small to medium sized clients it provides all the functionality needed at half the development time. I’m now researching and testing other cms to find appropriate solutions for clients of all sizes.

        I think in a few years the wordpress as a cms movement will either get serious and establish standards. Or it will collapse under a mess of plugins and hacks as people find better and more focused solutions.

        • 15

          I seriously disagree with you on the small project development issue, yes WordPress can be complex, but the Bueaty of its complexity is that it’s also easy to understand.

          For very small sites, WordPress is perfect. Small projects don’t remain small for ever and every good developer must think scalability, and that’s the sweetness of WordPress, scalability!

          There maybe features you don’t need in WordPress for a particular project at the time of inception, but that doesn’t mean you’ll never need them.

      • 16

        Hi Carlos
        Nice balanced comments – I too have worked with Umbraco for 3 years and for the past 6 months have had to use WordPress.

        There are some nice features within WordPress, but overal the admin UI in Umbraco is such a pleasure to use. And especially so when considering non technical users who may be looking after the website.

        One of the biggest issues for me in WordPress is having to turn features off (rss feed meta data, etc) – in Umbraco you only get what you code. WordPress takes the opposite approach – it tries to be “helpful” and automate all this stuff for you. For a pure web developer, getting html output that you didn’t ask for is quite frustrating.

        Thankfully in 3 weeks I return to full time Umbraco-land – ahhh, it will be like being on holiday.

        • 17

          Yea Carlos, one great feature that should be added in WordPress is more admin control over the interface non admin users see when they loggin.
          Admins should be able to turn of or disable certain features for non-admin users (users with lesser roles) with just button clicks or a drag and drop interface. As of now you could do that by messing with the WordPress core, but you’ll loose all your changes as soon as you update.

          Admins should be also allowed to create custom user levels, this would give developers more ammo to aid non technical users

          • 18

            I just want to clarify 1 point, in order to change editor’s (or other roles’) permission, you just add some lines of code to your functions.php – no need to mess with the core.

            I admit that GUI with drag & drop is better and well cooler.

            As a designer-developer, I find using code fairly comfortable though. I can save my functions.php and apply it for every project, instead of manually “drag & drop” all the time.

            With such techniques, I can show only to my clients: Posts, Pages, Media, Profiles and Appearance. Very easy for them!!!

    • 19

      Hey Torry – I couldn’t agree with you more. The cool thing is that Dave (lessbloat) from the core team is actively running usability test right now! You can check them out on the UI team blog

      As for “Who is WordPress”, that is an interesting question. In a way, it is us. All of us. But specifically for the core project, it is anyone who volunteers time to contribute. You can click the “get involved” tab at the top of and see where people engage. While I am not a formal core contributor, I often engage on the threads I find interesting and periodically get further involved. For example, the topic of plugin standards is important enough to me personally that I will be fairly engaged for the next number of months trying to foster the dialog and then collaborating with the people on make.wp to generate something of value.

      I’d be excited to see you on there.

  7. 20


    WordPress seems to be growing in all directions at the same time. Everything about it seems to be getting more complicated rather than more powerful yet user friendly.

    Most aren’t doing usability tests because, quite frankly, they don’t want to know what users think. And they don’t want to know they’re wrong. It’s like a guy who won’t go to a doctor because he doesn’t want to hear any bad news.

    I love WordPress, but it’s a mess.

    • 21

      Rob – I don’t know if it is fear of the light or lack of education. I never considered usability testing as a tool simply because I thought it required experts. As soon as I realized I could easily do it myself, and found someone to guide me through the process (hence the reason I wrote this article), we tried it out. We immediately saw an instant return. Now it is a core tool.

      Sometimes though that call for the next feature can stack and stack until simplicity is lost. I think true genius is the ability to make the complex simple. The advantage of WP being such a huge open source project is that it has attracted a lot of genius. We just need to offer the right tools.

      • 22

        My hope is that rather than trying to cram more into wordpress, an effort is made to simplify what wordpress already does.

  8. 23


    August 8, 2012 4:08 pm

    Replace the image uploader first. Do that yesterday. Add hooks to organize the placement of the buttons and limitations. THAT thing is a mess and it’s in the core. That says alot for any hope of a guideline being written for plugins if that can’t get fixed first.

  9. 24

    Joe L. Wroten

    August 8, 2012 6:09 pm

    Standards standards…gifts and curses in disguise are they not? I spend far too long determining where to find the configuration options for a recently installed plugin. I love it when there’s a link to the settings page directly in the description of the plugin in the wordpress plugins list though. Of course it still needs to be elsewhere, but it’s the most intuitive place after having just installed a plugin to find it’s settings.

    On the other topic of visual standards as well it’s interesting to see how companies or products try to create them. A great example as you mentioned was Google’s Ice Cream Sandwhich that was shipped alongside a great visual standards guideline I enjoyed reading/watching. While on the other side of the table we can see how scary it can be with something such as…I’ll go there, Windows 8 Metro. While I and many others have mixed feelings, at very least we can all agree that it’s pushing a strong sense of visual standardization which may better or cripple the whole system with it’s third party developers. We’ll just have to see.

  10. 25

    Grate Article, And i admire that WP community need to create a plugin that have easy to use.
    Thanks to Modern Tribe, I am grate fan of you three.

    I also used and customize a lot your your The Event Calendar Plugin.

    Thanks for all. :)

  11. 26

    Chris Carvache

    August 8, 2012 9:40 pm

    A guide would be the best idea. Who would pay for research? I’m sure Automattic would fund a solid initiative… Just like they usually do.

    Overall though I think plugin developers need to focus on making plugins work “like” WordPress instead of with WordPress.

    It seems like the best WordPress plugins look and function the way WordPress does natively. That way the learning curve is less than creating a functional flow from scratch or graphic designers trying to create a unique UI. Users that know how to create a post should be able to transfer that knowledge to any plugin.

    One of the problems for most developers is that making a solid plus that WordPress doesn’t have clearly documented methods and more so easy for the novice to understand

    • 27

      Chris Carvache

      August 8, 2012 9:42 pm

      P.s. hard to comment with HTC one X :(

    • 28

      Where it gets interesting Chris is in the grey areas.

      For example, as our framework grew, we found our settings panel getting unruly. Now I know that you could argue that it means our plugin is getting too complex, and I might not disagree. But that aside, it lead to an interesting conundrum, as WordPress didn’t seem to have an awesome pattern to copy.

      Its own settings panel had been split into sub-pages in a stand alone menu, which isn’t an option for our plugin. The other pattern we saw was tabs in the menu manager (perhaps not the best implemented feature). The tabs though have all kinds of issues if you need more than a few. So when there is no direct pattern to copy, the options is to either copy a similar pattern, even if it isn’t a great fit or simply go in a new direction. We used tabs, but I still question if that was the best approach. Then add the visual style of tabs (how many variants can you spot across core and plugins). In short, we find new problems which forces innovation.

      The good news is that we can join the conversation with the core and bring up these issues.

  12. 29

    Fabricio Martínez Tamayo

    August 8, 2012 10:31 pm

    I personally think wordpress needs to be ported to a more serious platform. You have such a feature rich application with such a bad performance.
    If I had the time I would port it to this
    (.Net, MVC, Autofac and NHibernate)

  13. 30

    I personally think wordpress needs to be ported to a more serious platform. I hope they will resolve it.

  14. 31

    A guide would be the best idea. Who would pay for research? I’m sure Automattic would fund a solid initiative… Just like they usually do.

    Overall though I think plugin developers need to focus on making plugins work “like” WordPress instead of with WordPress.

    It seems like the best WordPress plugins look and function the way WordPress does natively. That way the learning curve is less than creating a functional flow from scratch or graphic designers trying to create a unique UI. Users that know how to create a post should be able to transfer that knowledge to any plugin.

    One of the problems for most developers is that making a solid plus that WordPress doesn’t have clearly documented methods and more so easy for the novice to understand

  15. 32

    I’d like to know what the font is that was used in the “handwritten” graphic near the top of the article in the “Our Remote Usability Test: Step-By-Step” section para. 2

  16. 36

    Paulo Carvalho

    August 9, 2012 2:50 am

    You should give concrete5 a spin.
    I can assure you wont get that dreaded phone call an your relationship with it will last longer :).

  17. 37

    When setting up a fresh WP install I always had to add a ton of stuff to rip out elements the client simply didn’t need. Eventually I got bored manually doing this so I created the Point and Stare CMS plugin.

    I’m the first one to admit the code isn’t the best and i’ve been begging for someone that knows ‘proper’ plugin development to pull it apart and ‘build it better’ but so far it seems to have just been accepted.

  18. 38

    Matt Halliday

    August 9, 2012 5:17 am

    I agree that plugins can definitely be a world of hurt, for both developers and users. I have seen plugins that integrate seamlessly into WordPress, but they are few and far between. Most being sub-par at best. Well-documented and enforced standards would definitely be a huge plus for the community.

    In my opinion though, I think the real problem plaguing WordPress is its identity crisis.

    WordPress desperately wants to be a content management system, but at the core it’s still just blogging software with some extra functionality (post types, meta boxes, etc.) tacked on. Until they can make a choice and fully commit themselves to reaching that goal – it’s going to be a mess for everyone involved.

    Sadly, I can’t ever see this happening. WordPress’ goal is to make it easy for non-developers to create and modify websites. Moving towards creating a highly-customizable, flexible CMS would be a fantastic move for developers, but would leave beginners without any coding know-how behind in the dust.

    • 39

      You bring up an interesting strategic question for the community. The challenge becomes what is core functionality necessary to achieve the basic needs of the user? That of course depends on the vision of what the platform will be used for. If it is a self sustaining CMS, that means a more robust feature set. On the other hand, at his keynote last week at WCSF, Matt stated a vision of WP as an “app platform” or “framework”. I personally find this vision extremely appealing. But what does it mean?

      In my interpretations, it means you make WP skinny, lean and crazy usable / extendable. ?You strip out some of the funky shit. You focus on streamlining usability. What it also means is that you create a well define and rich set of standards for those people developing additional functionality. Think apple’s iphone. Solid phone. Fairly easy to use. Inspires imagination. Giant ass userbase. Good strong direction for developers to then come in and solve everyones problems. MASSIVE APP COMMUNITY.

      WordPress is well positioned for this strategy.

      We just need some guidelines. =)

  19. 40

    Rick Bjarnason

    August 9, 2012 5:58 am

    This article is spot on!

    Although I have to admit that these UX issues are prevalent in just about every CMS we get our hands on. It would be wonderful if the community could have some type of review panel for each and every plugin or contribution, but with an open source community the logistics of such a thing are mind boggling.

    The simple fact is that more articles like this, explaining what you did it and what your findings are will be invaluable to the community. I am very thankful that you took it on, and are willing to share the results.

    thanks Shane

  20. 41

    Love this post! I love how WordPress has grown with us.

  21. 42


    August 9, 2012 6:36 am

    I don’t know how this would work from a practical standpoint, but I’d really like to see WordPress broken down into modular components, so that at install (and later on from the settings panel) you had the option to enable/disable posts,comments,pages,etc. I can hide these features for my clients, but I’m aware that there’s a whole lot of system there that I rarely use every aspect of. /pipedream

  22. 43

    Great write-up, Shane, thanks.

  23. 44

    WordPress reminds me of Apple with their iDevices… they have obvious, in your face features not enabled but will be enabled over time. In the mean time, people have to muck around with code and poorly written plugins/themes just to make something simple to work (ie. Featured Image).

    I believe for a few updates, WordPress needs to stop adding random features and strengthen what they have. So many businesses fall into this pattern. They fixate on “coming up with the latest thing” instead of making their product rock solid. The standards/guidelines/rules would help.

    • 45

      I agree completely. I am always left scratching my head when a very basic feature required by many users is not there, or an existing part of WordPress does not work right. I wish some of this would be cleaned up, rather than adding big new features. For example, both the archives and sub-page widgets have no options that are often needed. The WP “Gallery” has issues that I couldn’t resolve ( There is no option for additional administrators to not receive comment notifications. There are lots of little things like that, in addition to development and theme frustrations.

  24. 46

    If you guys are making a living setting up sites or selling plugins, maybe you ought to consider Expression Engine? I don’t work for them, but used both. cheers.

  25. 47

    Jonathan Wold

    August 9, 2012 9:58 am

    Great work, Shane! I really appreciate the case study! It’s rare to have a developer open up an internal process to the public spotlight and I put a high value on what you’ve shared. I’m going to start user testing!

  26. 48

    Mike Edward Moras (e-sushi™)

    August 9, 2012 5:33 pm

    The title and the content hardly match. This isn’t a call for help to make wordpress better; this is a grassrooting article promoting your plugin. The fact that you’re describing basic UX facts doesn’t make it better, or fit the title.

    Whatever, if there were a thumb down around here, I would surely click it.

    • 49

      criticism is not permitted, how dare you!

      Please spend a moment of quiet reflection and come up with something nice to say!

      For instance, weren’t the graphics in this article quite pretty?
      I thought so!

  27. 50

    Would love to use WP if I could understand the… what do you call it… some sort of panel thing? It’s where you go in and make a new page and all that. Oh, yeah: the dashboard. Would really, really love to use it, if I could understand the thing.

    Truth is, the WP dashboard is blatantly non-intuitive. It just is. It hasn’t an intuitive bone in its body. But I fear no one will think of this and make it EASY TO USE. EVER. So, I will never be a WP user.

  28. 51

    Great article! Thanks for this post!

  29. 52

    Hi Shane,
    We spent a long time looking for a CMS built for the end user as well. The only system we could find which provides great, out of the box functionality while still being easy for our end users to maintain with minimal training was Business Catalyst! Our studio has been developing exclusively on BC for almost 5 years now.

    You can give it a (free) try as a Partner by signing up with this code: CKYGIW. The code will give you a discount if you choose to upgrade to a paid partner account.

  30. 53

    Zack Grossbart

    August 10, 2012 2:49 am

    The WordPress plugin community represents a fundamental dichotomy found in most open source projects. They want to make the platform consistent, but they also want to keep it open to support whatever plugins writers want to do with it.

    I strive to make my WordPress plugin work simply and feel seamlessly integrated, but I wrote it in the first place because I believe WordPress should change to have extended functionality. That leaves the WordPress community a thin path to walk between letting the community get out of had and becoming overly prescriptive. To put it another way, I love the power I have as a plugin writer, but I hate the way it’s so easy for other plugins to break mine.

    Have more guidelines for WordPress plugins would be great, but it’s tricky to write them. They need to exist as a set of recommendations rather than rules and you need to provide plugin writers incentives to follow them.

  31. 54

    Great post & totally on-point about the usability problems holding WordPress back. Looking at the previous comments it seems like a lot of people share the sentiment.

    That said, identifying a problem is only the first step. In order to make these changes we need to take action.

    To those who share our frustration: Did you know there is a WordPress UI Group? Meetings are open to the public and anyone can participate. If you’re passionate about making things change you should get involved. Meetings are held every week on IRC and are open to the public. Hope to see you there!

  32. 55

    I really enjoyed this post and am a WordPress User. I agree, the plugin process can be confusing/overwhelming. Some are simple (Akismet comes to mind) but others are way more complicated. I’d love to see WP take this advice to heart.

    This was also a great reminder of the simple power of user feedback on design. I did something similar for a design project earlier in my career. A few pizza boxes and a handful of undergrads helped us to deliver a more successful product. You really don’t need to many participants as long as you ask the right questions.

  33. 56

    I really enjoyed the video in this post – finding blue has never been so much fun before!

    But I must agree – what you have described is nothing less than a great way to test the usability of a plugin, app, CMS, UI, etc. Because “simple logic” has many faces, doesn’t it? Sure a good set of recommendations for plugin development would make everyone’s life easier. Until then – test – it is useful and amusing, obviously.

  34. 57

    WordPress is a strong CMS.WordPress is really useful for blogging.Nice tips to customize WordPress.

  35. 58

    This kind of progressive thinking always takes time in a development environment where already many tools have been made ‘out of the blue’. WordPress can just slowly ‘change’ this. For example ‘custom post types’ changed the way many plugins are developed today. The end-user does not ‘see’ this, but it influenced consistency a lot. I think there are many more areas in which WordPress could ‘set’ more ‘rules’ to get better integration of plugins and themes.

    The meaning of CMS versus blog-engine does not have any influence in this. Any ‘solution’ for both ‘applications’ should fit minimum requirements.

  36. 59

    Arie Putranto

    August 13, 2012 5:06 pm

    As a matter of fact, I didn’t get the point at all. What is it all about?

  37. 60

    I woud love WordPress to absorb those few awesome plugins that really extend its functionality in a meaningful way. It gets old installing the same 10 (popularly loved) plugins on every instance of WordPress just to get it running at a baseline level.

    There are also many simple plugins that do things that WordPress really ought to on its own; WordPress could interpret their popularity as demand for certain features, and write these into the core.

    As for the whole blog vs. CMS issue, why not just offer separate ‘blog’ (limited) and ‘cms’ (full) views of the backend? As far as I’m concerned, WP as a blog just amounts to limiting the admin-facing features of the CMS. Let users opt in to which of the backends they want to see; no need to let this constrain its potential as a really good CMS.

    • 61

      I think WordPress 3.5 will allow you to quickly install your Favorites plugin (the plugins that you bookmarked). That’s what they said from their website.

  38. 62

    One thing I can think of to make WordPress better would be to make a unified single, author, comment page system.
    I think it would be better if we only had to customize the Single page and then it would translate to the other post complier pages, that would be awesome.

  39. 63

    From a developer’s perspective, there are a lot of things holding WordPress back. Eventually, I imagine that it’s going to be replaced by content management frameworks, which will be easier to extend.

  40. 64

    Brecht Ryckaert

    August 15, 2012 1:28 pm

    Shane, I think you pretty much nailed it! I was actually cooking up a similar blogpost, but your post actually made me think of some further improvements which could be implemented. It’s too much to post into the comment field, but I’d certainly like to hear your view on my vision for WordPress:
    Glad you agree with me on the lack of conventions!

  41. 65

    Howdy! I’ve been chewing over this for the past week, trying to figure out what this means in terms of something that can be accomplished. I left some comments elsewhere in response to Shane, but will repeat the relevant ones:

    My overall view at the moment is this: in the pursuit of powerful tools and a base on which developers like to build, we have lost or ignored the sense of workflow for the end user. Many of the problems I see in the user testing that’s been written about would be helped along by creating funnels for various workflows and better new user experience (NUX). In fact, take a look at the instructions you/we have to write for the user tests – why aren’t those flows obvious to the user in the first place? Written instructions are often compensation for a lack of something else. Achieving workflows isn’t easy by any means, but it is what I’ve been seeing a need for over and over again. I don’t have an answer as to how to solve it, but I am a believer that identifying an issue is a huge first step.

    How does one imagine UX/interface guidelines being written or outlined? How do we communicate in semi-permanent words how to provide a usable interface, short of writing a book along the lines of, say, The Design of Everyday Things? Can we come up with an actual outline of what we’d like to see as a jumping off point? How does a style guide fit into the picture, or does it?

    I invite any interested parties to come and actively discuss this topic in IRC with the WordPress Core UI group. The UI group talks about everything from design to UX to development, so you’ll have a nice mixed audience. I know IRC isn’t everybody’s favorite means of communication, but it’s open to all and logged for posterity. We’re in #wordpress-ui on Freenode – hop in anytime, and know that we have open office hours every weekday at 19:00 UTC if that helps to set a time for more people to join in.

  42. 66

    As a developer, I regretted selecting WordPress almost on the first day and it’s been a nightmare ever since. It’s great for non-custom sites, but how often are out-of-the-box solutions truly good for clients?

    Worse, to support large clients who need robust development, there are extremely disruptive, un-documented issues that are almost un-solvable when factors like svn, multiple development environments, staging, load balancers and so forth are added in.

    The way it messes with html and common add-ins like jQuery while breaking every plugin customization on update make it scream-worthily intolerable.

    I also would like to see extremely popular plugins *and* functions absorbed into the core system with an on-off control.

    Consistency in plugin usability only barely touches on larger problems WordPress needs help with. I think their best path would be to keep what they have going for small business and personal users, and develop a better application from the ground up for larger purposes.

    • 67

      I am no developer (more like a light user :-) but I absolutely agree with you. Many plugin are developed almost in a bubble with no concern to usability or security. A proof to that is how much garbage many leave after being deleted because they were not coded right.

      The developer community, it seems, is competing against each other for prestige and innovation forgetting the user and WordPress frame work. They churn out hundreds of useless plugin that do very little. The goal becomes quantity rather than quality.

      It also looks like anyone can publish a plugin and essentially it’s at your risk using it.

      I hate Apple (I really do) but they creates a very strict set of rules that every developer has to follow. WordPress started as an open source and unfortunately, it is a Wild West. Open source is a nobel idea but even in this World there must be rules.

      On one end this freedom helped really innovative developers to came up with some nifty solutions and plugins but on the other hand it also created a lot of garbage.

      Something I would love to see integrated in Wordpres is SEO. Right now we have to use plugins. For example, why is it that until roday, by default, a post title is the H1 title of the post. What a bad idea. We have to go in our theme PHP and change it so we can have more flexibility when facing search bots. That is just a small example.

      Another would be integrated photo galleries. HTML5, Java or whatever. We have to rely on plugins that not always work with a specific theme.

      In short, there are so many things that can be done the question is are WordPress main developers, those who sit on the helm of this platform, are willing to close the door and start being really strict on plugins and theme developers. Is it too late? Is WordPress to big?

  43. 68

    An absolute gem of an article, it’s really interesting to read about usability testing in action. Thank you so much

  44. 69

    It’s just like Android vs. iOS.

    While the former takes on an “open” model and is highly versatile and extendable, the latter takes on a “close” model which has indeed provided a very streamlined, standard compliant user experience.

    It’s hard to take on a balanced approach. If you find it too complicated to maintain a WP site due to the amount of plugins to support website functionality, then probably you should have a custom theme built around your needs.

  45. 70

    WordPress losing its way? Or people relying on crappy plugins to provide functionality. Funny, the article is about how your plugin had usability issues, not WordPress itself. Did we mention our snazzy plugin. Gah!

  46. 71

    I have another request. We create manuals and tutorials for nothing. We know that. So, why not include them as a WordPress Admin Page? Last months I usually include all the guides, manuals and tutorials related to the Theme inside the Admin Panel ussing add_menu_page. Easier for lazy customers and they will have al the info in front of their eyes!

  47. 72

    Very true, major steps should be taken to fix this convention issue, it would greatly improve WordPress!

  48. 73

    Shane that was an awesome article, your writing style is very entertaining! Your user usability testing advice was awesome; my problem is I get too excited and point out this or that, never letting my testers actually test.

  49. 74

    Malik Merchant

    November 5, 2012 10:30 pm

    No matter what you say, after using several different CMS platforms & tools for 5 years….

    I still find WordPress is the most feature-rich & easiest CMS – Period.

    It owns almost 60% market share which is huge & i strongly believe that it will continue to do so in future as well.

    Long Live WordPress…!

  50. 75

    I have to agree. Plugins seem to take over the left side menu. Many (although it’s much better now) interfere with other plugins.

    One suggestion that I have is that every plugin will HAVE to have a live demo link so we can see how it works.

    Even better, create a public WordPress site that users can log in and try it for themselves.


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