A report on the usability testing for WordPress 2.7

Jane Wells at WordPress opens the kimono further on the decision to redesign the administrative user interface for 2.7. I griped a while back that it seemed like the design changes were being made in a non-systematic way, but it turns out there were solid usability testing exercises prior to the surveys we’ve all seen about structuring the navigation menu. She also includes a detailed usability report covering the eye tracking studies and the different stages of the process. Sounds like the new administrative screen is genuinely a usability improvement in terms of the metrics that matter (task success and time on task).

I also found it interesting that participants had a strong emotional connection to the 2.5 admin interface even when the formal usability metrics proved that they had trouble using it! Apparently good graphic design (my attraction to the UI) helps to mitigate formal usability flaws–a point worth remembering.

Getting attention

There’s a cute comic up at WPLover that highlights an interesting UI trend: the rise of the speech bubble. If you don’t have a WordPress blog, you may never have seen this UI, but it’s pretty much as the comic strip shows it. In the dashboard UI, there are a series of tabs for common tasks–comment management, etc.–and if something needs your attention on one of those tabs, a “speech bubble” pops up with the number of things you need to address.

What the comic points out is that this makes perfect sense for comments (a speech bubble with the number of comments is a congruent metaphor). But indicating the number of plugins needing updates is a little different–should your WordPress plugins really be talking to you?

I think the first treatment of this concept that I saw was Apple’s new mail count in Mail.app, but they didn’t treat it as a speech bubble (there was no “tail” on the little red badge showing the count). This treatment is probably the more portable UI convention.