WordPress 2.5 – Usability Oddities

I’ve been running WordPress version 2.5 for a couple of weeks now, and I got on the release candidate bandwagon even before the official release, so I think I’m in a position to comment on some of the changes.  Specifically I want to look at some of the strange usability quirks I’ve come across.

WordPress 2.5

The Write Post Window

For most bloggers, this is the screen they see the most of.  So it has to be perfect.  Unfortunately, it’s not.  Oe of the major problems I have is that when using the visual editor, pressing return moves the screen position back to the top.  This appears to be a FireFox (3 Beta) issue, but is annoying nonetheless and should have been picked up in testing.

There are, however, some other strange choices that have been made.  To my mind, the logical flow of the page has been broken.  Previously, the right hand side of the screen contained fields for setting categories, something that you need to remember to do.  having it right there, visible all the time you were writing the post, above the fold, really aided me.  I’ve put two screen shots below.  The first image is of the write page in WordPress 2.3 where the second image is of the write page in WordPress 2.5.

WordPress 2.3 Write Dialog

The Write page in WordPress 2.5

The main difference here is that in 2.5 it’s possible to write and publish an image without ever being made aware of the category options.  It’s below the fold.  In 2.3, you knew it was there.  The strange thing is that the post status has been given prime position, yet I can’t really see any good reason for it.  Personally, and I’m sure a lot of bloggers are the same, I’ve never manually changed the post status.  I just let WordPress update it for me at the point of publishing.  Upon closer inspection, this form is actually quite confusing.  If I change the status to “Published” and then click on “Save” is the post published?  What if I change the status to “Unpublished” and then click on “Publish”?  Confusing?  Contradictory?  Misleading?  Yes.

Also gone is the ability to manually re-order elements of the write page and the list of drafts that used to adorn the page.  The missing drafts has had a particularly big impact on the way I navigate WordPress.  Previously, I’d head to the write page regardless of whether I was starting a new post or continuing a draft one.  This worked because the page was accessible from any other page in the admin area.  To edit a draft post, from anywhere in the dashboard, it was a maximum of two clicks (providing it was a relatively new draft).  One to get to the write page, one to select the draft.  Now it’s three.  One to get to the write page, one to view the list of drafts (from the “related” links on the right hand side) and then a third to select the actual draft.  While it’s true that the list of drafts is on the dashboard, it’s not logical to go to my dashboard when I want to write a post.  I’m going to go to the write link.

Confusing Terminology

An often overlooked aspect of usability is the labeling and identification of options.  Functionality needs to be labelled clearly and concisely, and the label should be an accurate description of what will happen when the functionality is invoked.  Language is a crucial part of usability.

When it comes to HCI (Human – Computer Interaction) metaphors are often used in place of written descriptions.  Visual metaphors are very difficult to get right.  So where does WordPress 2.5 go wrong?

Image Buttons in WordPress 2.5One of the much promoted aspects of the redesigned admin interface is the media browser.  There has, in general, been a bit of a mixed reaction to it.  Looking at it from a usability point of view, certain aspects can be seen as confusing and counter intuitive.  To start with, there are two buttons labelled very similarly but which perform different functions.  There’s an “Add Image” button and an “Insert/Edit Image” button.  It’s really not clear what the difference, if any, is between these two options.  Combine this with the fact that the new “Add Image” button uses a particularly poor visual metaphor (is it a table, or a square?), and you have a recipe for confusion.  There is a similar situation with the more generic “Media” options.

The two buttons actuallt share functionality for inserting images into posts.  Both allow you to add images from external sites, but only one allows you to upload images.  Can you guess which one purely from the buttons and descriptions?  I didn’t think so.

There’s also some strange terminology used in the new widget interface.  This part of the WordPress admin area was in desperate need of a revamp.  The old version fell over if you had more than a couple of sidebars.  However, the new implementation isn’t much better.  The old drag and drop interface has been replaced with a more procedural implementation.  You first select which widetised area you wish to edit, and then add, remove or change widgets within that area.

Something that initially threw me, and probably many other people, is the “Show” button.  If you select a Widgetised area from a drop down, and then click a “Show” button next to it, what would you expect to happen?  Would your expectations change if this was the first time using the theme and hadn’t previously set up any widgets?  Probably.  Widget FormThere are, realistically, three possible outcomes from clicking this button.  You could be shown the area in your theme that contains the widget functionality.  “Show me Widget area 1”.  You could preview any changes you’ve made to the widgetised area.  “Show me the updated widgetised area 1”.  Or you could be shown a list of widgets currently assigned to the area.  “Show me the admin view of Widget area 1”.  Out of the three, given the layout and wording used in the form, the first option seems the most likely.  And to less experienced users, this is probably something they would want to see.  The action result is the third one listed.  But, if there are three possible outcomes, all of which are completely reasonable, the interface is too imprecise.  Especially for inexperienced users.

Navigation and Screen Flow

One of the most striking differences, conceptually if not visually, is the separation and re-classification of links.  There are now eleven permanent links dotted around the header in the admin section.  These have been seperated into four groups.  The top left has links for viewing the dashboard or the site.  Bottom left has links to Write, Manage, Design and Comments.  Top right has links to your user Profile, a link to Log Out, a link to the Codex (labelled as “Help”) and a link to the Support Forums.  The bottom right has links to Plugins, Settings and Users.

WordPress 2.5 Header

When you have links such as these, the language used to describe them is vitally important.  And I don’t think the WordPress team have got it quite right.  There are too many links that could reasonably do the same thing.  For example, the “Manage” link is far too vague and could refer to almost anything.  Anything that appears in the Settings, or for that matter the Design, section, could logically be placed in behind the “Manage” link.  You are, after all, managing your blog.  Even after a few weeks using this interface, I’m not confident in finding a certain piece of functionality.  I don’t really know behind which door it resides.

The Media Browser

I briefly touched on the Media Browser earlier, concentrating on the write page.  This time I want to touch on the actuala act of uploading images and inserting them into a post.  It seems woefully inconsistent.  Some times I can upload an image and am given the option to insert in into the post there and then.  Other times I can only save changes to the image, meaning I have to locate the image in the library, select it, and then insert it.  I can’t see any logical reason for this differing behaviour.

Summary

Overall, I actually think the new admin interface is a huge improvement.  Issues such as those pointed out above will be more obvious in a situation where you are revamping an exisiting interface, and it wasn’t an easy job.  There were, however, some simple improvements that could have been made to ease user’s transitions to the new interface.

I’ll return to this subject later in the week and point out what the new WordPress does well.  In the meantime, what do you think?  Have any of the issues above changed your approach to WordPress?  Do you disagree?  Let us know in the comments.