Author experience in Craft CMS
The phrases User experience (UX) and Customer Experience (CX) have been on the scene for a while now, but more recently Author Experience (or AX) has become increasingly common for web developers, and with good reason. The author experience is every bit as important as the end-user experience and arguably, can very much influence the other.
Author experience in this context relates to the experience that content editors have when using a website or online application to publish and manage their content. They're still users of course, but user experience tends to focus on that of the end user, and not so much on the person having to create and input the content. There's more freedom with user experience - it will often begin with a blank canvas to which a platform or system can be attached, but systems, to a certain degree arrive with many experience choices having already been made.
As any website owner or editor will tell you, adding products to an eCommerce site, writing blog posts or shuffling content around a website takes time, especially when it's not their primary role or something they do every day. Making it harder for them by not providing a great author experience creates stress and frustration as people find it within themselves to go into battle with clunky page layouts, errors that don't show themselves or vague instructions that lead to repeated attempts at getting the desired output to display as they want it to.
As an agency, Craft CMS is a platform we really enjoy working with, not only because its flexibility around development, but because it provides an enjoyable author experience. A good AX means those people having to publish content have an easier job to do because things just 'work'. It also means they're not constantly battling against what they know should be a simple task and (quite rightly) resorting to submitting endless help tickets to enable them to achieve what they need to, so it makes our lives easier too.
The way content management systems are being used is also changing. The growth of the 'headless CMS' where the place the content is created isn't necessarily the same place the content is displayed (think of content that might feed into a mobile app) means that there's a growing need for CMS vendors to provide the best possible author experience as a key differentiator in their product. This of course is a good thing, and as Craft CMS increasingly shows off it's headless capabilities, the release of Craft 4 expected in 2020 will further enhance the publishing experience.
While Craft CMS already provides an excellent AX by default, there are none-the-less plenty of ways to further enhance the AX using a variety of mainly free plugins. Web developer Katie Fritz has created this handy shortlist of Craft 3 plugins for a better author experience, and if you're a Craft developer, then it's definitely worth checking them out - your clients will thank you for it! There's even one of our own plugins featured in the list which was inspired after we saw Katie talk about AX at the Craft Dot All Conference in 2018.
AX isn't entirely down to the CMS Vendor
There is another key ingredient to the author experience though, and that goes beyond the technology or CMS vendor. Planning ahead for what your authors will be publishing is a crucial part of designing a good AX. Being constrained by having only a single text box for your content can be the result of poor planning as much as poor technology choices (WordPress I'm looking at you!).
Craft CMS is designed to be a content publishing platform, but it requires further design of the system to ensure it meets the needs of content creators and editors. Out of the box, it's nothing more than nuts and bolts that ultimately need to be assembled to make something functional. This is itself a reason why Craft provides such a good AX - you really need to know what you're going to build and why you're building it before diving in. Taking a content first approach to your project means you understand the needs of users and authors before you've even written a line of code. It means you get the AX with the UX, and that means a happy team, happy customers, and a high performing website that fits the purpose for which it was originally required.
Are you ready to see what you're missing?
If you're not a Craft user and author experience is one of the things dragging down your productivity, or that of your content team, then do drop us a line. We'd love to show you Craft.
Planning around your content, audiences and technology are just 3 of the steps that we cover within our own discovery process that we call Going the Distance™. It's about getting a website that meets the needs of your business and your audience, and one that will be fit for purpose over the long-term, without having to be stripped down and rebuilt after only a few short years.
Andrew is the founder of A Digital and wants and believes that technology needs to be an enabler, making a positive impact on the way people live and work.