Usability for Content Created in a CMS (Content Management Systems)

30 Aug 2011 - 2:20pm
5 years ago
1 reply
1282 reads


      I am working in a library, and doing some user experience and Web design work there.  This is really my first position in which I am doing these sorts of things...I am also a student at Philadelphia University's Interactive design and media program

When I had far less design background than I have now, I helped launch a CMS that allowed librarians to create research guides for various subjects, to help students studying topics.  At the time, I was trying to wrap my head around the fact that numerous people were creating content, each with varying levels of awareness about creating content for the web.

I look at the guides created, and, they are not bad, but could use some editing... not major content changes, but changes to typography, use of colors, use of images, links...

I also know that some on staff might be a bit touchy if I make suggestions... these are their creations, so any attempt on my part to make suggestions may be frowned upon by some. 

So, my questions is:  should I suggest changes?  If so, how I should I discuss it?  At a meeting?  One-on-one?  Or, would I be missing the point if I made suggestions?  Should I just leave things be? 

I should point out the CMS is not great (I won't say the name, but those in the library world might have a guess)... the design idea behind it is not that good, so it is  hard to get a good design.

Thanks for any suggestions.



4 Sep 2011 - 11:19pm

I'm going to answer this rather generally, and not all of it may apply, but here are some lessons I've learned from being in similar shoes to yours. The most important being: half of any redesign is psychological/emotional. More than half, possibly. The technical is really just the icing on the cake, but you can't ice what ain't baked yet.

1. Change is scary, and it's hard. Empathize with the people on the other side of the table. They're used to the way they've been doing things, and for all its/their imperfections (of which they are likely well aware), it's still a devil they know. Try to think of some kind of change (preferably technological) that scares, annoys, or just plain bothers you. Maybe it's that you hate upgrading your phone and re-learning how to speed-dial on a new interface. Maybe you secretly still use the MS Office version pre-ribbon because you can't figure out where anything is in the new interface. I'm sure you have something that made you recoil despite the external pressure to find that something awesome and shiny. Make it clear that you totally get that change is a hassle, and that you'll do your best to limit it as much as possible.

2. Respect the fact that your task is not the entirety of these people's jobs. Never forget they're taking time away from their 'real' work for you. Your job isn't to recreate or redesign the entire way they work (write content); your job is to help them do what they already do, just better. For every one criticism you raise (ie, "the fonts change in every document"), find two things to praise ("you're an excellent writer who makes complex ideas easy to understand" etc). They're a lot less likely to be annoyed by your intrusion if they feel like you're stepping sensitively, and are appreciating all the hard work they've done.

3. Whenever possible (if at all possible), shift the weight off them. Try to come up with ways to fix things that doesn't require them to redo everything they've already done. If it's a matter of, say, fonts that vary radically, see if there's a way to fix these behind-the-scenes, like via the CSS or some kind of backend global database work. This may require some hours spent with a patient developer (I recommend bribery like ice cream or beer, if needed) to get technical suggestions or solutions, if you're not savvy to those things. What you're aiming for is to sidestep the inevitable fear that your critique will automatically lead to, "so all of you need to go back and edit those". If there is a way to change things on the backend, though, have at least one meeting where you show a demo/test run, and open the floor for feedback. People are more willing to change when it's not directly impacting them (that is, increasing their workload).

4. Let your experts come up with the ideas themselves. This is a very old management trick, but it works (and it's not even really a trick, if you do it right). Meet with your experts, and approach the problem as though it's separate from all of you. "So here are four examples, and you can see how the fonts are different in each. I'm not really sure the best way to tackle this, and I was thinking you might have some ideas." No value judgments on which is right or wrong. Let the inconsistencies speak for themselves. It may take some coaxing, but get them to do the suggesting, and just keep drawing them out... until (ideally) someone else at the table verbalizes the solution you've already figured out is best practice. Then you can just say, "that is an awesome idea!" -- and there, the experts resolved it; you just facilitated. (You absolutely must be able to sound sincere, or this will bomb and your credibility will be utterly shot, though. Practice on your friends.) If no one says what you're looking for, suggest your ideas but look to them for feedback. Gauge from their reactions whether you can continue. On some points you may lose -- your experts just aren't interested -- and those losses you may have to accept philosophically.

5. When all else fails (or even before it does), appeal to your subject matter experts' expertise. If you've gotten them to recognize the inconsistency (something, admittedly, that most librarians do not like, just as a matter of general temperament), even if they can't agree on how to fix it, do at least ask them how they'd recommend preventing this in the future. Maybe a better help guide? Or a demo content that shows the proper ways to do things? The existing versions may end up unchanged, but I'd bet they have ideas on what might've helped them when making that first post. What lessons did they learn, methods they figure out, that could help other librarians down the road? In short, get them to turn their brains to creating content... that's about how to create content.

Good luck. Redesign is a delicate balancing act, so do your best to keep a sense of humor. It's the best tool in your arsenal when it comes to change.

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