Adobe Experience Manager: Designing Your Authors’ Experience
Last week we had the pleasure of hosting the first local meeting of the Montreal Chapter of the Adobe Experience Manager (formerly Adobe CQ) user group. Since the event took place on the eve of World Usability Day, we decided to focus our discussion around the topic of Author Experience.
The concept of “author experience” has changed tremendously over the last several decades. Back in the 1970’s, content authors engaged with technology in a centralized way. Applications were housed on central servers and users needed to be trained on custom interactions. This often involved highly custom classes and training sessions. In the 1990’s, the interactions became more standard and industrialized and authors were given off-the-shelf manuals to learn how to use their tools.
Today, we understand that there is value in building technologies and systems that are more intuitive and provide greater guidance. When a web content management system (WCMS) is implemented with the author in mind, it will increase productivity, improve collaboration, reduce change management, ensure employee satisfaction, increase quality and content hygiene, and create better consistency and governance.
But how do you design your web content management implementation to meet the needs of your authors? Let’s look at some recommendations and best practices.
Design for Different Types of Authors
It’s easy to think of content authors as one group, but this is far from the truth. First you want to make the platform attractive to new users and accommodate the needs of first-time users. You must ensure that it’s easy for authors to accomplish simple tasks and feel satisfied. Next you have occasional users – authors that publish content infrequently, but must still be able to find their way around and remember how to get their tasks done. Finally, you have power users, who will be authoring frequently and want access to shortcuts keys and power functions. The author experience must be optimized for each.
Think of Author Needs Early in the Project
A common mistake is that the needs of the author are discussed or addressed late in a web project. Ideally, the author experience should be designed early, right after you define the user experience. This can be accomplished by assigning an Author’s Advocate, whose task is to look out for the needs of the authors right from the start. With an enterprise WCMS implementation, there are choices that can be made during development that ultimately define how users build pages and interact with the interface. By having the Author’s Advocate implicated in the project early on, he/she will keep the authors’ requirements in mind.
Define the Terminology and Styles
A common challenge in a WCMS project is ensuring that all your authors are working under a common framework for collaboration. This can be assisted by establishing both a standard project glossary and a web style guide early in the project. This way, authors can easily understand what a template means, or how to format headers and bullet lists in content. The framework for collaboration is set and agreed upon by everyone.
Architect and Organize Your Site
Setting up a clear folder structure and organizing your site from day one is essential. Many feel that this is a task for developers, but it’s imperative that authors have a say in how their assets, pages and even apps are organized. It’s important to answer questions such as, “Where do my landing pages go?”, “Are assets separated by language or globally grouped?”. These decisions are not purely development driven and the input of authors is crucial.
Clearly Label Templates and Assets
At the start of a project, it’s easy to see which template to use when you only have a few from which to choose. However, you need to think of how your names and descriptions will help you choose the right template after your site grows and matures. Labeling a template “inner page” may not seem so intuitive in a few months, where “Feature article with right side bar” may be easier to recognize. The same goes for assets. You will want to clearly label images and files so you know that the picture is of a “brown men’s t-shirt” not just a t-shirt. This also makes it easier for your authors to search assets for internal reuse as well.
Build-in Contextual Help to Author Screens
Adding in contextual help to dialog boxes on the author side are a great investment. There’s nothing more daunting than staring at a blank box and trying to figure out what to add. Adding a field label to a content box that says “Enter date yy/mm/dd” or putting “Enter a 40 character title that includes the page name”, helps guide the author and ensures consistency of info.
Remove the Clutter
Many organizations keep the standard user interface for their chosen WCMS platform to keep the experience consistent. However, there is significant value in removing the clutter for content authors. One of the benefits of an enterprise solution like AEM lies in the ability to customize the interface. It’s simple for some authors to see all options and for others to have a very streamlined experience, with access to just the few functions that they need. By removing unnecessary distractions, productivity is improved, particularly for first-time or occasional authors.
Audit New Content
A mistake organizations often make in defining the authors’ experience is that they focus too heavily on establishing the rules and norms and they don’t let authors live in the system first. While some items like content naming and architecture need to be set early, others like workflows should be addressed later, once authors have had some experience in the platform. We often recommend that an author, or group of authors, take on the role of auditor during the early days of content creation. This allows for a review of the content and for adjustments of the rules or norms. It also provides context into processes to help establish needs for workflows, which can progressively be added in to the experience.
Build in a Review Process
The role of the author’s advocate does not end when the site launches. It may change slightly from that of an advocate to fight for features and functionality to that of a surveyor; collecting feedback from the users and watching where the experience falls short. Just as a website is an ever evolving entity, the author experience will require tweaking and adjusting to continue to meet your users’ needs and goals.
To sum up, the authors’ experience in engaging with your WCMS is as important as your users’ experience. In order to ensure optimal productivity and adoption, it’s important to address author needs early, and plan for certain governance practices to help guide and empower authors’ interaction on the platform.