Understanding What Drupal Editors and Authors Need

To validate changes to Drupal’s administration menus and user interface, we employed various types of usability testing, we ran card sorting exercises, a survey, and several rounds of user testing.

The Drupal Administration UI initiative, introduced in June 2023, continues to improve the user experience of Drupal core. The initiative was launched with the commitment and goal of improving the Drupal experience for all users using Drupal and reversing the existing negative impression of the Drupal user interface (UI).

Over the past year, volunteers with the initiative conducted user testing and research to understand how users currently interact with the interface and to test improvements iteratively. One focus was on content creators who create, edit, organize, and maintain content on Drupal. What do they expect from the Drupal user interface? What do they need? 

The research took the form of a card sort, five phases of user testing, and an administration survey and will continue to inform ongoing improvements. Recent progress includes getting the navigation module into core as a new experimental module and the ongoing work on the top toolbar to center on the needs of content creators.

We are committed to delivering user-centric work, and this extends to the Drupal project, the basis for many of our client's websites. Improvements should actually be improvements. To validate changes to Drupal's administration menus and user interface, we employed various types of usability testing.

Why focus on content creators and editors?

Historically, content creators have not been considered much when organizing Drupal's administration UI. There has also been a lack of flexibility. Setting menus up in a way that works best for content creator workflows requires development time, which can get expensive.

The motivation to focus on content creators can be summed up by this problem statement from the proposal for a new content creation menu

The top level admin sections result in a disjointed experience for people with primarily content creation/management focused permissions. Access to items that for these users are similar tools is spread out across multiple admin sections.


We wanted to build an understanding of content creator and editor's needs. This desire led to a plan for iterative user testing and several rounds of feedback, which helped validate that any changes would support those needs.

The card sorting exercise

The card sort aimed to understand Drupal users' mental models of the administration menu and how they would reorganize the current Drupal core administration menu. 

The card sort was set up using Maze. Each card represented a link in the current Drupal administration menu system. Participants were volunteers from the Drupal community. They were asked to review the cards, create category names that they would use to organize similar cards, and then group cards into those categories.

The card sort provided insight into how Drupal users categorize topics and what links are confusing in the Drupal administration menus. Overall, there wasn't a clear agreement on how to organize the menu system. 

Except when it came to sorting cards related to content. "Content and content administration" emerged as one of the top three groupings with a high average agreement rate. From Maze, "The agreement rate is the percentage of users agreeing that a card belongs in this category." 

The top five cards in the category included:

  • Content list
  • Create content
  • Comments list
  • Media list
  • Files list

"Create a taxonomy term" and "Taxonomy terms" also had strong associations with the "Content and content administration" category. These results highlight the need for a centralized content menu item that contains links for content and content administration.

View the full summary of the card sort.

Administration menu survey

What are the most common customizations that Drupal agencies make to the Drupal administration menu? What development changes were made to meet project requirements and provide clients with the best experience? The administration menu survey included six questions and an option to upload screenshots.

  • How many people create and edit content on the site?
  • What are the top-level links included in the administration menu on your site?
  • Is the administration menu on the site modified in any way with contributed modules or custom code? If yes, please describe how or in what ways the administration menu is modified with contributed modules or custom code.
  • What are some examples of administration pages do you think the administration menu structure should include links to by default?
  • In general, how do you think the administration menu could be improved?

It was shared with different-sized Drupal agencies to get a range of responses and controlled for response quality.

The survey responses indicated that:

  • Administrators and developers already customize the administration menu to varying degrees for content creators. 
  • There is a desire to customize the menu with less development resources. 
  • The need to be able to customize menus for users with content-focused roles.

View the full summary of the administration menu survey.

The Usability tests

We organized several rounds of user tests for Drupal experts and content users, allowing us to validate solutions for the content users' needs without disrupting site builders or developers.

These tests were key to guiding the evolution of the designs. For example, we initially used an accordion-like interaction for sub-menus, but moved to the final drawer implementation, which can accommodate multiple sub-levels and still provide a link to the parent item.

Admin UI with drawer extension on hover

Navigation is usable by everybody. But we also need help with front-end and back-end issues already found and new issues discovered as more people try it. 

There's one more thing on the horizon: a new top contextual Bar that will provide the rest of the contextual actions needed to improve the UI that the actual navigation can't accommodate. These tests also showed us the need to define a change management strategy, so we prioritized the ability to customize the menus on the navigation through the UI. This was a new and desired feature that should help increase adoption.

What we learned

Drupal core's existing administration UI is not optimized for content creators. The links used for content are not clear what they are for, nor are they grouped in an intuitive way. 

The Card Sorting exercise proved the need for a content-focused part of the navigation UI. The user tests helped us evolve the designs, but they also showed us the reactions of new and long-term users so we could plan in advance.

The Administration Menu Survey identified features needed on the existing toolbar so we could provide them in the new navigation. Site owners and agencies want navigation adapted to content creators and editors, and they want to be able to change it with very few costs.

How are these results informing parallel work?

The card sort revealed some confusion over the current terminology in Drupal's administration menus. This issue might be because of so-called drupalisms, terminology that is not industry-standard and does not fit with people's current mental models. Work is ongoing to gather a list of drupalisms and come up with alternatives.

Additional work on the administration menu's information architecture will be related to this. We want items to be organized based on tasks in a way that better fits expectations and provides guidance on where contrib modules should place their menu items by default.

What's next and how you can help

Now that the new navigation is in core, we would love the community's feedback and help to get it to the final line and mark it Stable.

The Accessibility testing plan needs help. The new navigation roadmap shows some future additions. These features are under active development and hidden behind the Navigation Top Bar flag module.

Get in touch with us

Tell us about your project or drop us a line. We'd love to hear from you!