Authoring Experiences are User Experiences, Too.

Mediacurrent
4 min readNov 17, 2022
Bilboard atop a blue sky with clouds that reads, “Imagine a world where website editing is easy”

Over the years and across our range of experiences working with websites, we have heard a lot of horror stories about site management and editing — we’ve even personally lived through our fair share of them.

Some of our past encounters with bad authoring experiences include hits like:

“I am not sure how to add a new section of text to a page, but thankfully I have this 72-page PDF to walk me through it.”

“Why does it feel like I need a Ph.D. in computer science to edit this link?”

And my personal favorite, “It’s 2022, but my CMS’ page editing interface looks like the beginnings of the internet.”

Because we’ve been the very editors who were victims to bad systems before, we’ve become dedicated to crafting exceptional experiences for all site editors. Our past pain points have gifted us with a lot of ideas about how the website editing experience should work.

Site editing should be, above anything else, simple — and we’re setting out to make that a reality.

We have reached the point in the evolution of the internet where investing in the front-end user experience of a website is a given. How your users experience your website impacts how they perceive your brand and how well your website fulfills its main purpose — whether that is enrolling new students, connecting people to resources, explaining what your organization does, or increasing sales or donations.

But we also believe that user needs and good user experiences don’t stop at a site’s front-end.

We’ve recently written about how B2B sites are often designed as if their audiences are robots, when they are in fact, people. In that same vein, we also think it’s about time someone champions the other users who interact with websites — the website editors and authors who are tasked with crafting good user experiences in the long term.

Creating good front-end user experiences shouldn’t be at odds with creating good back-end user experiences. Websites should be built for all users, including the ones that work behind the scenes to bring them to life.

Venn Diagram, Left: Back-end experience, Right: Front-end experience, center overlap of both sides: User Experience

It can seem counterintuitive to invest money and time into developing a side of your website that site visitors never interact with. Organizations who redesign their site to try to fix a problem like decreased conversions or lower enrollment may feel like investing money into the back-end user experience is selfish or not in alignment with their strategic goals. Looking at the back-end user experience of your site as an afterthought, or as a tertiary priority misses the bigger picture: your site can’t help you and your users achieve their goals if quality assurance, content freshness and iterative site improvements are compromised by the complex intricacies of the editing experience.

Over the last year, we’ve taken our own advice. While building our own new website after our updated brand launch, we have worked overtime to create an editing experience that hinges on one central guiding question: if a new team member joined us tomorrow with very little experience working within a CMS, could they log in and quickly grasp what they need to do?

We’ve taken extra time to engage strategists and developers as collaborators to sketch out what a back-end user is trying to accomplish with every block or component on our site, and we have put ease of the authoring experience above the ease of development. We have honed in on seemingly simple things like field and block naming, help text and labels on page editing interfaces, speed of previews when page-building, the simplicity of the administrative interface based on user roles and making publishing workflows frictionless. We completed user acceptance testing of our editing experience and have gone back and made changes when certain aspects of the experience, no matter how minute, could be simplified.

Our everyday work also includes creating the same quality of authoring experiences for our own clients, helping them create flexible and future-proof CMSs that will grow with their organizations — helping clients avoid an endless cycle of replatforming on a quest for an authoring experience that doesn’t suck.

As an Open Source product agency, we often work with CMS products that are highly flexible but require thoughtful configuration at the development stage to ensure a good authoring experience for complex workflows. We are no strangers to the chatter that Open Source CMS products have bad authoring experiences, but we want to change that perception. With the right approach to CMS architecting and development, Open Source CMS products can offer incredible editing experiences at a low cost to organizations.

We already have a lot of thoughts about what makes a good authoring experience, but we also want your help. We’ve created a brief survey to help us understand your pain points and your successes with your site’s editing experience — regardless of what CMS you use. We hope to use your real experiences to help us shape a better product. Our goal is to create a simple, modern authoring experience — specifically one that is Open Source, and available to all organizations, not just our clients, at no cost.

We really do imagine a world where website editing is easy, and we’d love your help getting there.

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