The ease of use myth
When looking for a new CMS, most end users agree on one thing – It must be easy to use.
Easy to use.
We hear those three words a lot during the CMS selection process.
It seems like a reasonable expectation, but it may just be the requirement that undermines your entire project. The problem is organizations rarely define what ease of use really means to them.
In most cases, the requirement gets reduced to the lowest common denominator. The focus is on a slick looking interface, the WYSIWYG editor, and inline editing tools that allows anyone to navigate to a web page and do point and click editing.
CMS vendors of course trumpet their software’s ease of use. I’ve yet to meet one that says their product is hard. Almost every demo I’ve seen spends the first 20 minutes explaining how the WYSIWYG editor and inline editing works. Features that, by the way, work almost exactly the same across most platforms today.
Here’s the reality: Web content management systems are not easy to use. They are complex pieces of enterprise software that enable hundreds (if not thousands) of different tasks.
When an end user says it needs to be easy, they mean easy for the specific task they are trying to accomplish. This is rarely as simple as making a basic text change on a single webpage as the demo shows.
Even the process of creating a new piece of new content has considerations like metadata, SEO, mobile, language, multi-channel and content reuse. Not to mention more complex scenarios like creating landing pages, forms and microsites. Apply that across a complex organization and you get dozens (if not hundreds) of different scenarios.
Some of this simply comes down to educating the users. Creating, publishing and managing web content is a much more complicated process than creating a new Microsoft Word document. Yet somehow this is the bar we set.
The CMS vendors bear responsibility as well. In an effort to keep up with growing business requirements, vendors are adding more and more features, menus, fields, ribbons and dialog boxes.
It’s not as if the vendors don’t care about usability. They do. Most solutions try to separate out the ‘power user’ management interface from the page-level inline editing tools. Unfortunately, this doesn’t usually satisfy the needs of users that have to work between the two worlds.
It also doesn’t help that the discipline of user experience within most CMS vendors is vastly underfunded proportional to the engineering effort. The rapid release cycles and evolving functionality of a CMS means most tools are getting more complicated rather than simpler.
So what happens?
The CMS that everyone loved in the demo ends up losing its luster when folks put it through the paces. End users become frustrated with the complexity of the interface as they learn what it actually takes to get their specific tasks done.
In extreme cases, the implementation is deemed a failure and the vendors and implementation partner get blamed for a poor solution that failed to deliver on the initial promises.
I’ll explore ways to avoid this unfortunate scenario in a future blog post. In the meantime, be wary when you hear users prioritize ease of use as a top goal for a new CMS without any additional details.
What have your experiences been with making your CMS easier to use? And for any vendors out there, how are you working to address usability with your software?