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Drupal has been around for a long time, and its content editing interface has undergone several refreshes over the years, most notably during the Drupal 7 development cycle with the Seven theme. Another administration theme is rapidly changing the game for Drupal site builders and content editors, and it's part of a Drupal core strategic initiative—one of the Drupal community's utmost priorities and innovation streams—to modernize the front end of Drupal for a variety of use cases. Claro is a new administration theme available for users of Drupal 8 that focuses its attention on usability, accessibility, and extensibility.
Your correspondent (Preston So, Editor in Chief at Tag1 and author of Decoupled Drupal in Practice) had the opportunity to host a Tag1 Team Talks episode spotlighting the Claro theme with Cristina Chumillas (Front-End Developer at Lullabot), Fabian Franz (Senior Technical Architect and Performance Lead at Tag1), and Michael Meyers (Managing Director at Tag1). In this multi-part blog series, we take a closer look at Claro and some of the lesser-known considerations that went into its design, development, and wide adoption by Drupal content creators and editors alike the world over. In this first installment, we cover the history and goals of the Claro administration theme.
Later blog posts in this series delve into a variety of Claro topics. The second installment deals with how Claro found inspiration in modern design patterns and its design process. In the third installment, we explore how Claro focused on enabling accessible user experiences while remaining as innovative as always. In the fourth and final installment, we discuss the future of Claro and how you can get involved as a contributor.
The Claro team analyzed several usability tests and surveys in the Drupal community that consulted more than three hundred participants. Among the many pieces of feedback the contributor team heard was the clear opinion shared by many Drupal users that the user interface of Drupal seemed outdated in appearance. After all, the previous large-scale redesign that had occurred in Drupal's history resulted in the Seven theme, a robust and forward-looking design upon its creation, but by the time the survey was created, Seven had been in Drupal core for a decade. Seven also needed a refresh not only in terms of design language but also when it came to obsolete user interaction patterns.
Other complaints that Claro contributors heard during the discovery process highlighted the complexity of certain authoring interfaces. Certain contributed modules were not yet created when Seven was approaching its release, most notably the Paragraphs module, which in addition to facilitating the creation of arbitrary lists of fields also allows those "paragraphs" to be nested within one another. It was clear that a comprehensive redesign of the administration was needed, and this was the first time the notion of Claro as its own entity emerged.
The goals that Claro's architects set had to touch not only on all of the distinct personas in Drupal, like the site builder, developer, and content editor; they also needed to ensure technical heft as well as increasingly nonnegotiable requirements like accessibility and usability on multiple devices. Fortunately, the Claro team was able to identify a set of objectives that would not only be achievable but also be meaningful to the community as well as the ecosystem.
Drupal is one of the few examples among content management systems of a user experience that provides for the site builder persona, which doesn't exist in other ecosystems. However, site builders make up a sizable proportion of the Drupal community, as analyzed surveys indicated, and their needs could not go ignored. In the Drupal ecosystem, the site builder is generally considered an administrator with exclusive permissions. And any content editor, especially those who spend eight hours every day editing content, will use the same tools as a site builder to create pages.
One of the other often confounding aspects of Drupal is the fact that roles and permissions have an outsized influence on how the user experience functions across personas. For instance, the local action tabs at the top of every administration page in Drupal are configured in such a way that certain users without special permissions may not see particular menu items, thus curtailing access to certain key locations in Drupal.
Drupal's information architecture was also found in user experience surveys to be confusing for content authors. Because the Claro team found this during one of its initial usability tests, contributors ended up focusing more time on the content author experience, and one of the goals became creating a new menu for content authors and adding a new user role to Drupal known as editor, content editor, or content author. This proposal is still under discussion on Drupal.org.
A month into the development cycle, the Claro team found that while fostering an improved content author experience would yield considerable dividends for Drupal's longevity and user experience, the site builder experience could not be ignored due to many user interfaces' position at the nexus of both personas. For instance, the Views UI and Paragraphs modules are considered optimized for site builders who need to structure content in addition to writing it, but these modules today are both commonly manipulated by content editors as well.