WordPress is amazing and keeps getting better, but I want to be clear about an inherent limitation that WordPress has as a content management system (CMS). That limitation is that WordPress doesn’t handle multiple content regions on web pages.
As an information architect/user experience designer, I’ve been involved in many projects that required more types of content on any single screen than WordPress is designed to handle.
Let me draw out what I’m talking about here.
Exhibit A: Page content that WordPress is designed to handle
In a standard WordPress page or post, you’ll see these author-controlled pieces of content.
Excerpt (often not-used)
There are other sets of data for a page or post that an author can control, too, but these are meta-data such as tags, categories, slug (shows up in the URL), and possibly search engine optimization information like title, description, and keywords.
For a normal blog, many online trade journals, and a lot of basic websites, this really covers the bases. The body contains the bulk of the content including images, video, and audio that can be intermingled with the text itself. This model is very flexible, and it has definitely proven itself.
Exhibit B: Page content that pushes WordPress too far
In 2009, there was a small project at work to develop the website Covenant Musicians, and because the person who would keep the site updated was already using WordPress, we made the decision to build this site with WordPress too.
Well, if you look at one of the destination pages for this site, the musician profile page (here’s one for example), you’ll notice some different pieces of content which may or may not be present on any particular musician profile page. When they are present, they need to be in certain places and sometimes with certain content.
The problem is, to control those extra pieces of content: the video, the band image, the link to the band’s website, the site owner needs to use WordPress’s custom fields in very precise ways, without the benefit of WordPress’s content editing tools. What a drag!
To make life easier for the site owner, we ended up recording screencast instructions on how to use these fields and delivered those help files with the site itself. (We used Jing by Techsmith, by the way.)
It would’ve been better had the interface been clear enough so that we didn’t feel the need to document the process of updating these destination pages, but that’s the trouble with stretching WordPress beyond its default content fields.
Ask too much of WordPress and ease-of-use is the casualty
Do you see the difference? When an effective design solution requires multiple types of content per page, using WordPress will actually make your website difficult to manage. WordPress is usually so easy to use that when you hit this wall, it is very apparent.
When you’re at that point, WordPress is probably not the right CMS to choose.
Should WordPress improve in this area?
Whether through the core application or through an excellent plug-in (is there one already that I missed?), if WordPress is going to grow in the content management systems field, this shortfall will need to be addressed.
However, WordPress is really excellent at what it does already, and the better course might be to decide to keep the features in check and let other systems compete in the mid-to-enterprise scale CMS arena. Scope creep never stops, and a good application strategy knows when to say “no.”
Am I wrong?
Am I off-base here? This is just one aspect of WordPress that should limit its use. Another that should cause designers to think twice is when dealing with faceted-navigation which requires more than one dimension (tags can probably handle one dimension). But, again, those are more complex design requirements.
I’m not a WordPress consultant, and I’ll bet some of you would like to point to the errors in my thinking. Let’s hear it.
When I was leading many design/development projects at a time, I’d write a creative brief for each—it helped me and the team stay clearheaded about each project. An experience theme seems like an alternative to a creative brief.
The following thoughts apply Chastain’s article to my work at Covenant Eyes.
Covenant Eyes is rich with stories
At Covenant Eyes, Inc., we have a full-time blogger, Luke. As I see it, Luke’s job is to draw out the stories surrounding Covenant Eyes and to share them using the Internet. He’s our storyteller.
What are the roles? There are so many stories, from people in so many places in life.
porn addicts, recovering porn addicts, people who have beaten the addiction
and the list continues
What are some theme concepts?
For people fighting a problem with pornography: Learn to be honest again (These words come from Michael Leahy’s mouth while he was visiting our offices.)
For mothers with children who use the Internet: Protect my family
For fathers with a teenage son: Teach him to be responsible for his actions
Experience transcends our services
What work do we do at our company? Although others I work with may claim we deliver software, I think we deliver information. Our software allows us to provide information-rich reports on Internet usage that can be used within relationships. I think of these as “accountability relationships.”
The theme concepts listed above have little to do with software or even our service. The real value we provide is that we can provide the sense for people that what could be their little secret is not actually hidden. That little bit of knowledge has proven its ability to change lives, and relationships, for the better.
The hard part is carrying the experience theme across our touch points with users
I recently helped put together a spreadsheet to inventory the automated emails we send to users at various points. There were over 60 emails, and they fulfill needs ranging from billing concerns to helpful reminders after a few weeks of being a customer. Many of these messages should be revised, and keeping the theme in mind will help create a coherent experience for our users.
Beyond these emails is a myriad of other touch points:
sign up form
filter settings controls
tech support phone calls
and so on
Taken all together, these communications can benefit from an experience theme.
I suspect the key to pulling this off is to have all those involved with crafting these touch points understand the experience theme and leave it to them to carry it through. As the company’s user experience lead, my job may be to facilitate the definition and adoption of an experience theme, and motivate and lead by example so others will carry the vision.