How to Improve the WordPress Admin Area [Expert Interviews]

How to Improve the WordPress Admin Area [Expert Interviews]

Cast your mind back to when you were completely new to WordPress.

It was all rather overwhelming, wasn’t it? What is now so familiar was once alien and intimidating. And let’s face it, there is an awful lot going on – from a plethora of menu options, to an assortment of meta boxes.

With that in mind, I thought I would ask some knowledgable minds what they would do to improve the WordPress admin area. I spoke to theme developers, plugin developers, and general WordPress enthusiasts. The responses I got collectively represent a far better admin area for everyone – from beginners to pros.

The Dashboard

Let’s start with what any WordPress user first sees when they login to their site. Unless you go out of your way to clean up the dashboard, it will be full of an assortment of meta boxes. Whilst getting rid of them is easy enough via the Screen Options tab, should some of them be there in the first place?

Shane from Modern Tribe questioned whether the QuickPress widget even gets used. I would be interested to know if any of you use it.

QuickPress

Whilst I have always felt that the QuickPress widget is a waste of time, Martin Kuplens-Ewart from BraveNewCode suggested a simple improvement:

Add a “Switch to full editor” button which takes whatever content has been added and populates it in the normal “Add New Post” interface.

That certainly would make QuickPress more useful, although I am still dubious as to its true benefit (is clicking on “Add New Post” really that difficult?).

Both Shane and Martin had other ideas regarding dashboard widgets:

The Sidebar

SidebarThe sidebar used to be the one feature of the admin area that I felt needed the most attention (although my primary focus has now shifted to the various usability improvements that you can find later on in this article). I have not been short of a rant or two in the past about how the sidebar can be improved or edited.

Dumitru Brinzan of WPZoom and Shawn K Hall of 12 Point Design both had similar ideas regarding the ability to rearrange the menu items in the sidebar. Dumitru made the following observations:

The Media and Links appearing between Posts and Pages confuses quite some people. New users sometimes miss either the Posts tab or the Pages tab, and sometimes they don’t understand that both of these exist, and that they are rather different.

Shawn suggested drag and drop ordering of menu items – that would be a godsend. But what really bothers me about the sidebar is the way in which plugin settings are integrated. Shawn remarked upon a technical issue regarding just that:

Currently, if I write a plugin that needs a minimal interface (one field needs to be added as an editable option somewhere), it’s far easier to create my own custom page to manage that single option than it is to hook into the “settings, general” page or other settings pages.

It ought to be simpler (even encouraged) for developers to use these core pages instead of creating their own interfaces for minimal settings changes.

Amen. As soon as you install more than a handful of plugins, your sidebar begins to get unnecessarily bloated. Not only that, but many plugin developers seem to have taken to putting their settings screens wherever they please, without much thought to usability. Shane picked up on this:

Some plugins put their import functionality under tools, others as a submenu within their own plugin…the user experience in the admin is jarred between plugins, just from a simple navigation standpoint.

This is a subject that I am not a stranger to, and should be a top priority in my opinion.

Usability

If you’ve been reading the ManageWP blog for any length of time, you will know that I am a big advocate of usability. And in reading all of the suggestions by the group of WordPress experts that I questioned in preparation for this article, it has become clear to me how far WordPress has to come in terms of intuitiveness and ease of use.

Eric Mann of Jumping Duck Media made a great point about simplifying workflow in WordPress:

There are too many ways to do one thing. I can create a new post through the QuickPress box, by selecting “New Post” from the dropdown in the toolbar, by selecting “Add New” in the “All Posts” menu option in the left-hand sidebar, or by clicking the title of a recent draft.

WordPress is a great tool, but the platform itself needs to do a better job of getting out of the user’s way – a Dashboard with 20 top-level navigation elements that are rarely (if ever) used is a huge obstacle to efficiency.

I think one of the major issues when working with the admin area is the sheer number of buttons. Given that so many achieve the same thing, would it not be a good idea to bring things back under control by cutting down on the repetition of functionality?

New Post
Do we need this many potential ways to do the same thing?

With a less cluttered admin area, the focus could then be moved onto finding things quickly and easy – something that WordPress does not do well at all. Jason Amunwa of Digital Telepathy suggested that we should have instant search results, Google style, when using any search box in the WordPress admin area. He was certainly more kind than I have been in the past by referring to WordPress’ default search functionality as “pretty lacking”.

Shawn suggested that WordPress allow you to bookmark pages and view a “Recently Visited Pages” menu. This would certainly make navigating to specific parts of your admin area far quicker.

Finally, Jason came up with a cracking usability idea regarding list screens:

Infinite-scroll/lazy-loading of list screens – pagination is rarely pleasurable to use, but I understand the need to efficiently cope with hundreds or even thousands of list items. I’d love to be able to scroll through them on one page – kinda like how Pinterest, Park & Bond, etc. deals with it.

Now that would be something – I have lost count of the amount of times I have got fed up of navigating through paginated lists in WordPress.

How Would You Improve the WordPress Admin Area?

There you have it folks – the collective thoughts of a handful of WordPress experts. But there are no doubt other ways in which the WordPress admin area can be improved. What do you think of the ideas above, and what ideas do you have? Let us know in the comments section!

Tom Ewer

Tom Ewer is the founder of WordCandy.co. He has been a huge fan of WordPress since he first laid eyes on it, and has been writing educational and informative content for WordPress users since 2011. When he's not working, you're likely to find him outdoors somewhere – as far away from a screen as possible!

7 Comments

  1. Tom

    Nice write-up and some very interesting points raised.

    Personally I do feel that the WordPress Dashboard seems a bit, well.. ‘dated’. Usability could be improved dramatically.

    Anyway I’d like to add a contribution to this article by sharing with you two plugins which we use on ALL our clients WordPress-based sites- Adminimize & Fluency Admin. The latter, although is no longer supported with the latest WP versions, is quite easily fixed with a couple of minor CSS edits. In fact if you check the wordpress.org forums for the plugin I’ve already posted a fix there (to fix display issues).

    Adminimize allows you to control which usergroups (roles) are able to see certain menu items, widgets, meta-boxes (and more), in the back-end.

    If you’ve not yet tried Adminimize, you’re missing out! It saves us many hours of editing the functions.php file each & every time. You can even export your settings from one site and import to another, saving you even more time.

    Anyway.. happy WordPress-ing!

    Tom

    1. Scott Kane

      Tom,

      I avoid editing functions.php whenever possible. Instead I use a custom plugin that loads these kind of settings (amongst others) irrespective of the theme being used.

      Tutorial here: http://wpcandy.com/teaches/how-to-create-a-functionality-plugin/

      Well worth the minutes it takes to create and update with new functionality.

      1. Tom Ewer

        Hi Shane,

        I agree with you in principle although I much prefer using the Code Snippets plugin to achieve the same effect.

        Cheers,

        Tom

  2. Jason Levine

    One of the funny thigs about this is that most of the pain is suffered only by the Administrator role because that user level sees all, knows all.

    Logging in with a lower-permission role reduces the pain measurably as many of the options are hidden away and the interface gets simpler again.

    As a stopgap measure until better admin management is built into the core, why not start teaching solo site operators to use two users to run the site. The Administrator handles the maintenance and upgrades and basic configuration and a lower-level user account handles the content?

    1. Tom Ewer

      It’s a fair point, but lower-permission roles don’t alleviate many of the usability issues, which I see as key.

  3. Bas

    Hi Tom,

    For my non technical clients I needed a solution to present them a nice, minimal admin menu.
    I tested every plugin out there..

    The default WP menu indeed is way to much for the everage person that only uses WP to manage content.. Even more with some plugins installed the admin menu becomes cluttered and very messy..

    After testing so many plugins I found ‘admin menu editor’ the very best.
    http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/admin-menu-editor/

    I bought the pro version as it allows to create a custom admin menu and attach it to a specific user.. The free version however also will do in most cases!

    The custom minimal admin menu I create for my clients with improves the admin dashboard big time! It makes it easier to learn them the WP dashboard and decreases support!
    Hope this helps!

    Regrads,
    Bas

    1. Tom Ewer

      Spooky Bas – I am reviewing that very plugin within the next week or so!

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