Drupal's Admin UI is Getting a Facelift

In a past life, I worked as an editor for a couple of B2B websites. The first one ran on Drupal 7, while the second, launched several years after the first, was built out on Drupal 8. When this D8 site was ready for action, I was eager to dive in and test out all of the bells and whistles. While I appreciated much of the streamlining and improved functionalities between the two versions, I couldn’t help but notice that the user interface (UI) for Drupal 8 wasn’t much different from Drupal 7.

As it turns out, I wasn’t the only one who saw the resemblance.

In a recent blog post, Drupal founder Dries Buytaert addressed criticisms from the community regarding the Drupal admin UI. Acknowledging that the interface was dated, he wrote:

This critique is not wrong. Drupal's current administration UI was originally designed almost ten years ago when we were working on Drupal 7. In the last ten years, the world did not stand still; design trends changed, user interfaces became more dynamic and end-user expectations have changed with that.

To address this issue, Dries continued, the Drupal team is going to revamp the Drupal admin UI. From the inside and out, this new UI is going to become more in-line with a modern editing experience.

There have been attempts to fix or update the admin UI before, but this new effort is wider in scope. Contrasted with a component like the Material Admin theme, which is also meant to modernize the backend editing experience, Drupal’s plan for a new admin UI is part of a comprehensive modernization strategy. The Admin UI & JavaScript Modernization initiative seeks to update Drupal’s APIs and underlying JavaScript code. This multi-year initiative’s ultimate goal is to make Drupal both more compatible with decoupled applications and easier to navigate for end users.

While these UI advances sound tantalizing, they’re a bit far off, as this initiative will take several years to complete. As the first phase of this plan, however, the Drupal team has a solution they’re planning on releasing sooner. In this case, they’re taking a cue from the community and creating a new theme known as Claro.

With a beta anticipated to come out in Spring 2019, Claro represents an early version of the Admin UI & JavaScript Modernization Initiative’s goals. Claro will be built along the same design principles that guide the initiative despite being built from the D7 core theme. While this first step is limited to visual improvements, insights gained from its adoption will be used during the larger modernization initiative. By developing this temporary solution, Drupal is giving users a chance to experiment with a version of the new layout while still staying open to feedback.

These gradual technical changes are much anticipated, but the big takeaway is that this isn’t just a cosmetic upgrade. Many of the guiding principles behind the admin UI modernization initiative are rooted in accessibility, responsiveness and collaboration. Thanks to the updated JavaScript-based UI, the interface will be React-powered, making the experience more app-like (read: intuitive). Design elements like iconography and colors will be simplified for easier understanding. While an update of this magnitude could easily have eschewed these concerns and opted for a purely aesthetic redo, signs point to a revamped admin UI that will improve the editorial experience for everyone.

Based on these defined principles and the level of attention already dedicated to the project, the Drupal team’s commitment to improving its user experience in this case cannot be understated. When users identified an outdated admin UI as an issue, Drupal offered both a short-solution to address the problem while being open about plans and philosophies for long-term development. By the end of the process, the out-of-the-box Drupal admin UI will be able to compete with other content management systems in terms of usability and appearance.

At Duo, we're committed to making sure that editors can easily and effectively manage their content. If you have any questions about Drupal or any new features on the horizon, please feel free to reach out.

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