WordPress Is Making The Same Mistakes Microsoft Did With Windows 8

With the news that the controversial change to Menu management in WordPress has been tentatively approved for merger into core, WordPress is following Microsoft’s footsteps in making a major mistake when it comes to user interface: fragmentation.

Despite overwhelming negative feedback from the WordPress development community on merging the Menu management into what is currently the theme Customizer UI, the change was still tentatively approved. I get the impression that the core team members pushing for this change feel that the negative feedback is due to people simply disliking change. Wrong.

“For Menu Customizer, this idea has been part of the project from the very beginning. My GSoC proposal (3/20/14) states ‘If the Menu Customizer provides all of the features of the existing menu management screen, while clearly demonstrating that it is a better solution than the existing screen in user tests, it could potentially replace the existing screen entirely for users that can access the Customizer,’ and there has never been indication that this isn’t the direction we should move in, other than the general and ongoing resistance to the Customizer as a whole that we’ve seen from many community members (which I think is more of an educational issue).” – Nick Halsey

My issue with moving menu management into the Customizer has absolutely nothing to do with fearing change. Change is inevitable. WordPress has to change.

It also has nothing to do with having an extreme dislike for the Customizer. Do I think the current Customizer implementation is perfect? Definitely not. It could use a lot of work. It needs to be refined.

My issue is WordPress is making the same mistake that Microsoft did with Windows 8 by splitting things up into 2 distinct user interfaces. That is simply a bad direction to take.

We all know how this played out for Microsoft. It worked so well they had to skip Windows 9 entirely and go right to Windows 10 in order to try and distance it from the terrible user interface mistakes that they made with Windows 8.

WordPress the open source project needs to decide what the future of the admin user interface is. It needs to pick a direction and it needs to go all in with it. This piecemeal approach of splitting up functionality between the Dashboard user interface and the Customizer user interface is an extremely poor direction to take from from both a user interface and user experience standpoint.

I have no issues with a Customizer style approach to the admin UI. In fact I think it’s the direction that WordPress should go in. If you think i’m crazy, do yourself a favor and take Squarespace for a spin. Squarespace uses a similar user interface to that of the Customizer in WordPress. It looks fantastic.

The Customizer works in similar fashion to the Squarespace UI but it’s far less elegant in just about every way. A WordPress admin using the same approach as the Customizer would be fantastic. But only if it’s overhauled to be as usable, and elegant as what Squarespace has done. Ideally WordPress would do it even better and one up Squarespace.

Is deciding to do a complete overhaul of the WordPress admin an easy decision to make? Absolutely not. Is it going to be an easy thing to pull off? Hell no. In fact it’s a scary proposition. But nothing worth doing is ever easy and creating a great product never comes without risks.

It’s time for WordPress to shit or get off the pot when it comes to the Customizer UI.

20 thoughts on “WordPress Is Making The Same Mistakes Microsoft Did With Windows 8”

  1. I completely agree with your sentiment. Nick’s comment sounds a bit insulting to me, as if I am a sort of an imbecile or a retarded old-school manager with 20-years of offline experience who claims that the Internet is a place for kids to play games and nothing more.

    Fear of change and lack of agreement when a project takes a different turn are not the same thing. Despite of the fact that I don’t like the Customizer in general (other than two or three things you can do with it now), I still remember when we added the second tab in the Menus screen so that locations are managed separately due to the limited space on the main screen. And now we’re trying to put two windows in the tiny panel provided by the Customizer.

    I’ve shared a few more thoughts from the past at http://devwp.eu/customizer-everywhere-no-thanks-heres-why/ , but I don’t like how decisions are made lately.

  2. It’s not just the menu issue in the customizer, it’s also the other things which Nick was defensive when I brought up the problem of moving everything into the customizer. Things adding the Widgets (absolutely bad decision), the Nav, Background, Header, Site title and Tagline…all these things should have stayed in the main dashboard where they were and then cleaned up the UI for those.

    It was my assumption the customizer was to replace third party and/or custom theme option panels, but it doesn’t look like this is the case. The decisions they are making lately just simply don’t make sense and it will turn off a lot of users.

    It’s funny to confess this, but as one who loves making WordPress themes, I don’t use WordPress for my own website, I use Joomla. Seeing the direction WP is going just solidifies my choice.

  3. “overwhelming negative feedback” how many people were asked/surveyed/polled for you to come to this conclusion? They never asked ME. I have been around since the VERY BEGINNING.

    If majority of people want something that you don’t want, well…..too bad for you. A lot the “negative feedback” on the WP Community usually come from a loud minority that think things should be their way only. Not accusing you or anyone.

    I think the Menu SHOULD go to the customizer just like most of the APPEARANCE has gone to customizer.

    1. How did I come to the conclusion?

      From the comments on the project update on wordpress.org, comments on multiple posts about the direction on multiple WordPress focused sites, feedback from the development community on Twitter and feedback from numerous discussions in WordPress Facebook Groups. The dislike far outweighed the like.

      Is this a small percentage of WordPress users? Absolutely. But it’s an important subset of the community that consists of the developers that contribute greatly to the WordPress community and have their finger on the pulse of the type of impact changes have on clients they work with on a daily basis.

      You completely missed the point of this article.

      The point is not that moving Menus into the Customizer is a bad thing. What is bad is the UI fragmentation of how you manage a WordPress site. Bouncing between two completely different UI’s is both a poor user interface design decision and results in poor user experience. Not to mention it just flat out makes WordPress look like it lacks a cohesive direction from a UI standpoint.

      I have no issues with a Customizer style direction for the admin. As I mentioned, it’s exactly what Squarespace does and it’s miles ahead of what WordPress is doing from a UI standpoint.

      The basic UI of WordPress took 7 years from the introduction of the new admin UI in WordPress v2.7 to what we have today via iteration. If it takes 7 years using iteration to move towards a more modern approach with a Customizer/Squarespace style admin UI that will be far too long of a time for the WordPress admin UI to be fragmented like some sort of Frankenstein CMS.

      An iterative approach works with a lot of things. It does not work when doing it with something as important as the entire admin user interface design.

      The issue isn’t Menus being shoved into the Customizer. The issue is if the Customizer UI is the way of the future than WordPress needs to commit to it full stop and work on launching an entirely new admin UI that completely replaces the existing Dashboard.

      And to be clear, I’m all for going in that direction. The WordPress Dashboard is dated and stale. But if it’s going to done in an iterative manner with the UI fragmented over a period of years? I think it’s a terrible strategy for something as important as the admin UI.

  4. I am also not a fan of putting menus in the customizer. Well, more accurately, I’m not a fan of getting rid of the WP Admin screen at the same time, since if there really are people that would rather manage custom menus in a skinny pane instead of using their screen real estate, more power to them, but I’d rather the customizer experience vastly improved overall before we start squashing everything into it. It feels like a regression in usability. (Admittedly, menus are not particularly usable as it is in WP Admin, but at least it’s not so cramped.)

    It’s kind of funny that you look at 2.7 until now as one long iteration; as the person who drove most of the 2.7 ux (but am not involved in design on core anymore), I see them as so different. In fact, when we were choosing the overall ui structure for the crazyhorse prototype that preceded 2.7, a pane-based/live-preview UI was one of our choices. The reason we picked the left nav style with open/close menus and lots of drag and drop metaboxes instead was based on the usability testing we were doing. That was a common structure back in 2008, and we specifically referenced google analytics — which was all the rage — so that we could test changes in navigation/labels/features without having to correct for issues with test subjects having to learn a whole new UI. Then it tested so much better than 2.6 that we just went with it, though it hadn’t been meant as a design suggestion, just a testing framework. Funny, huh?

    If I was designing WP today, it would be soooo different. 🙂

    1. The UI in 2.7 is definitely different, but it’s evolved through iteration to what we have today.

      It’s the basic layout that I’m referring to. If broken down to a wireframe it would look similar. Navigation area on left, main admin content in center, meta box column on right and on main Dashboard an array of meta boxes with all of them customizable to position them as you want.

      Visually it’s evolved but the basic overall layout has remained.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment Jen! You were directly involved with the UI in those days so your input is appreciated.

  5. Also – “…while clearly demonstrating that it is a better solution than the existing screen in user tests…”. So did it? Did it clearly demonstrate it is a better solution? Show us those user tests then! Lol

    “…and there has never been indication that this isn’t the direction we should move in…”
    – Wow, so that’s part of his reasoning? How many people knew this was being planned? I for one only heard of this crazy change last week!

    It’s hard enough to understand the WP dashboard as it is, it’s far from a good UI experience… can fragmenting it in this way make it better? I don’t see it…

  6. “We all know how this played out for Microsoft. It worked so well they had to skip Windows 9 entirely and go right to Windows 10 in order to try and distance it from the terrible user interface mistakes that they made with Windows 8.”

    I would note that Microsoft actually did this because a lot of scripts use Windows 9 as shorthand for 95 and 98 to save time. Using Windows 9 would break a lot of legacy hardware still in use as a result, issues that are fixed by moving to Windows 10 instead

    1. Indeed. But Windows 8 was also seen as a mess from a UI standpoint and being able to skip Windows 9 had the side benefit of distancing it from Windows 8 and its issues in order to launch Windows 10 with more of a clean slate.

      The UI decisions made in Windows 8 as it relates to splitting the UI between the full screen Start Menu replacement and the traditional desktop was universally panned.

  7. Thanks Carl for your open and frank discussion. I am seeing this in a number of development communities, the difficulty of getting a broad enough involvement and voice on changes.

    Another comment mentions the loud minority. But I would say its the minority sadly that get off their backsides and do stuff. The quieter majority where are they? I have become aware of the need for all to give back, but if you see the article contrasting WordPress and Drupal Communities and what they can each learn from each other there seems to still be much to learn. But not listening to feedback and driving changes not broadly bought-in to however earnestly meant is not good news.

    In another community I have seen the tech leads (loud minority) drive through change that the wider majority, people like myself ,( some tech knowledge) assume must be right but don’t know how to comment on, because they get drowned out by the vocal technical leads.

    We have to appreciate all that community achieves, but when someone as capable as Carl Hancock is making his voice heard this clearly I am concerned too. His concerns seem justified and the process not as involving as I would like it to be. We need to take responsibility to get involved as well

    The best voice places seem to be the closed groups on Facebook, how mad is that ‘closed groups’ and using Facebook because WP doesn’t have a place that seems an easy place to get involved and engage? Maybe we have to blame ourselves and more of us get involved but where and how?

    But whilst we are all debating this, other platforms are simplifying the process and WordPress is getting a reputation amongst users that it a techies tool. The Customizer, even from my perspective doesn’t seem quite as easy or cool as I had hoped it would be. Menus in there, I don’t see the need.but I feel a road map of direction seems to be sadly missing.
    Matt’s state of WordPress is one thing but it has to be a wider community based voice, he can’t drive it all forever. Sorry this is turning into a post.

    So much preoccupation with the Dashboard is missing the point, the quiet majority are going off and using other tools. They want drag and drop on the front-end and wysiwyg, not tinkering with dashboards. I know because I am working with that quiet majority and so are many of us. Look to the future like https://twitter.com/nphaskins and lass.is or the vocal minority will be all talking to themselves.

    Sometimes user friendly in this community seems like a dirty word. But in truth the customizer feels kind of clumsy compared to other tools and not enough of a quantum shift in capability that matters not to those who engineer but those who choose platforms and use stuff for the real world.

    WordPress is fabulous, get more of us involved and feeding back on the process, its a virtual black art at the moment. Users are getting scared and walking away from complexity and what they perceive as too steep a climb to learn.

    How can we democratise direction, even can we I come back to the debate re direction of Drupal and WP Communities, both have to learn from each other. At the moment LISTEN TO CARL he cares, he knows, he listens. But what are the rest of us going to do about it, feels like there is a bigger issue here.

    If someone knows where there is a high level roadmap of where WP is going rather than tinkering with Dashboard, that’s not proprietary to Automattic and commercially privileged please link it here. Thanks for all that EVErYBODY DOES and come on the quiet minority.

    There is no such thing as a free lunch we ALL NEED TO GIVE BACK. It’s like government, you get the government that society deserves and apathy or leaving it to the loud guys and primarily technical leads. Come on Peeps what do you want and WordPress how can we open-up the conversation? Sort the Customizer, it’s not great but what can we do to fix it?

    1. Thanks! One thing some involved with the decision to merge Menus into the Customizer seem to think is that the negative feedback is some sort of pushback to change. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

      WordPress has to change. Or it will die. Change is inevitable.

      The pushback has nothing to do with change and everything to do with poor UI decisions and the fragmentation of the WordPress Dashboard.

      I’m perfectly fine with Menus moving into the Customizer. But only if it means a major overhaul of the WordPress Dashboard as we know it so that it uses the Customizer UI. Having 2 completely different UI’s for the admin is absolutely terrible.

      This is completely doable. For those that think a Customizer UI approach wouldn’t work for everything they should look at Squarespace. When done right it can most definitely work because the UI can expand as needed when managing things that require more screen real estate.

      As of right now the WordPress Customizer doesn’t do a good enough job when it comes to that aspect. It tries to stick to constraining everything into a narrow column. When it shows an additional column it is equally narrow.

      The Layers WP theme is an example of someone using the Customizer to at least get past this way of doing things as it uses more screen real estate when needed while still working within the Customizer.

      But in order to do that the approach with the entire admin, the Customizer would need to be refined and updated. It’s not as elegant as the Squarespace UI that uses the same approach.

    1. I agree.

      As someone who runs one of the most successful commercial plugins in the WordPress ecosystem I’m acutely aware that the vast majority of WordPress users are far less tech savvy than many people like to give them credit for.

      Sometimes it’s amazing that some of these people have any involvement in running or managing their own WordPress site.

      These are the people that make up the majority of the WordPress user base. These are the people that will scratch their head and wonder why they are bounced around and having to work with 2 entirely different user interfaces.

      Mistakes like this from a UI standpoint are absolutely terrible from a user experience standpoint.

      1. have posted this in Advanced WordPress Group on facebook 14k peeps, so far those hat have commented agree with you. and Yes, most end users are not that techy, as you say.

      2. UI/UX is currently the most important thing in software design. It makes the difference between things being a pleasure to use, or a pain to use. There some really great examples out there. FreshBooks and Discover Card websites come to mind. They are a thing of beauty.

        But much thought goes into this. It is not easy to balance the legacy of the past with the current and future needs.

        Put it in the Customizer cannot be the only answer!

      3. Even I agree with it. It’s 100% true. All my clients got WordPress websites but most are even scared to update the plugins or WordPress. It’s the simplest CMS I have eveer Used 🙂

  8. Thanks Carl for writing this.

    I’d love to see an update of the admin dashboard, and standardization that all developers will use and that all users can understand.

  9. I agree with almost everything except the Windows 8 Analogy. There was a very specific reason to split the interfaces in Windows 8, there is no functional reason to split the interface in WordPress.

    1. There was indeed a very good reason to split the UI in Windows and it has to do with device utilization. Windows needed to behave different on a phone, tablet and PC. The problem is they didn’t do that correctly. They still made the UI that was more suitable for Tablets the default on PC’s, while still retaining the traditional desktop if you clicked the tile in the full screen start menu to go to it. That was the mistake. It’s what they are correcting in Windows 10 to refine the UI and make it a better experience all around. Having the OS adapt to the device used to access it is good. One UI for something like this will not work across all devices. Microsoft learned their lesson. Something Apple already knew with how they’ve handled OSX and iOS and also iOS on iPhone bs iOS on iPad. Microsoft made that mistake with how they handled it in Windows 8 and learned their lesson and it appears Windows 10 will be much more elegant as a result.

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