"Count what is countable. Measure what is measureable. What is not measureable, make measureable." -- Galileo

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Usability of CMS Home Sites redux--the new Plone.org

The much anticipated Plone.org redesign has rolled out the door this week and from what I've seen on Twitter, its a winner. From what I've seen myself, its a winner. Welcome to 2010, Plone... 2010 and beyond.

Admittedly, I've got a soft spot for Plone, using it in my day job for implementing a variety of web projects. This week its been a portal for an upcoming UNSCR 1540 workshop. Last week it was a global security website. The week before that we used it as the modern front end for a legacy distance learning tool. So how's a guy supposed to be unbiased?

Let me turn back the page a month or so to my posting on usability and see how the new Plone.org stacks up with the old. Recall that I was ranking sites based on how few of Jakob Neilsen's "Top Ten Mistakes in Web Design" are evident. Low numbers mean fewer usability mistakes and a better home site.


Old Plone


Bad search

PDF files for online reading

Not changing the color of visited links

Non-scannable text 0.5
"F pattern" fully embraced
Fixed font size

Page titles with low search engine visibility 1
Buggy but expected to improve
Anything that looks like an advertisement

Violating design conventions

Hyperlinks within text block non-standard
Opening new browser windows

Not answering users questions 1

Targeted straight-forward references
2.5 1.5

Plone. The homepage is very clean and now displays key information in the highly scannable "F-shaped" pattern that eye-tracking studies have shown is common when users are looking for something. News and upcoming events are in an unobtrusive font even though centrally placed--easy for the eyes to jump past if that's not what you're looking for. Large event graphics, which are, in a manner of speaking, advertisements from a newbie's perspective, are out of the way yet easy to find for community members (and exceptionally well integrated into the design, too). The main tree branch graphic perfectly captures the eyes' flow of vision, taking the new site visitor straight to "Explore the possibilities." On top of all that, the opening-bud theme resonates with me personally since I'm a reformed botanist.

Page titles remain tricky in the documentation and could be better for internal search engine visibility. There appears to be a bug in there--I found myself at a login screen when searching for "lock down your site."

The marketing box at the bottom of the page is gone, replaced by a concise block of text that addresses key pain points that potential Plone users might be bringing with them as they visit the site. It took me a moment to realize that the bold text represents hyperlinks--0.5 point off for not following standard hyperlink conventions here.

Plone.org now has only 1.5 of Neilsen's baddies, a 40% improvement over the previous 2.5 score and a 10% improvement based on the total scale maximum of 10.

Does anything give me real heartburn here? Nope, I'm very impressed, especially when compared with the numbers other CMS were scoring (5.0 - 6.0).

I was a little surprised when the "best security" link took me to CVE but not the pleasantly empty query page for Plone in the last 3 months or at least the NVD search page. Considering how unusable the CVE/NVD pages are, it might be better still to set up a dynamic page drawing down CVE counts for a couple dozen CMSs. (I think by making a criticism like that, I just volunteered for some Python scripting to solve the problem.)

I was a little distracted by the out of focus portions of the main graphic, but the longer I look at it, the better I like it just the way it is. There's also something just a little off about the Plone logo on the box, but its probably just the perspective being used on the angled container. Nice use of a single wet-tile graphic there--that's an often overused motif.

I saw a reference to "total world domination" with a trademark logo on the "New look" page. Not sure what that means, but I'm still leary of the concept based on my March 7 posting.

I do miss the colophon proper, if only because its a great printer's term to throw around at parties. That said, the footer is an outstanding example of how to arrange information so that its available but not in the way. Most site designers, including the old Plone.org, would highlight that material at the very top of the page and really cut down usability.

For those that haven't clicked on the "A new look for plone.org" news item and read all the way down to the "We'd like to thank the Academy" section, here's the list of those who made this possible:

  • Iain Claridge of Netsight, who did the graphic design many moons ago, and kept improving it,
  • Alexander Limi, Plone co-founder, who translated it into a simple and elegant Plone theme of real live HTML and CSS on top of xdv/Deliverance,
  • The amazing plone.org admin team, who brought plone.org into the modern age by upgrading us to Plone 3, and continued improving the site and its setup:
  • Alex Clark
  • Laurence Rowe
  • Tarek Ziadé
  • Alexander Limi
  • Steve McMahon
  • David Glick
  • Matthew Wilkes
  • Martin Aspeli
  • Graham Perrin
  • Ricardo Newbery
  • Ian Bicking,
  • Paul Everitt and the crew at OpenPlans, who created Deliverance (and its sibling: xdv), the new theming system we’re using.
  • The many people who updated, edited, rearrange and revised plone.org content in preparation for the relaunch.
In conclusion, I won't just give a tip o' the hat to the design team that rolled out the new Plone.org. I genuflect in their presence. Terrific job, everyone. Awesome!


Willy said...

I do thing this is a great improvement. Still, usability may change too, and I'm missing something that I think others may miss too: The add-ins are now ordered by name and you have no way to filter them by Plone version!.

Hope someone got that one!

Davi Fox said...

Breadcrumbs are missing too!