Jeffrey Zeldman founder of Happy Cog and co-founder of A List Apart has joined Automattic’s advisory board. The news was announced by Zeldman in a tweet on November 22nd. In that same tweet, Zeldman mentioned that his personal site Zeldman.com is now using WordPress. In a quote from Matt Mullenweg published on Post Status, Zeldman’s advice will come in handy as Automattic, WordPress.com, and Jetpack continue to grow.
While this is great news, I think it’s important to go back in time and review Happy Cog’s involvement with the development of WordPress 2.5. WordPress 2.5 was released on March 29th, 2008 during WordCamp Dallas. WordPress 2.5 was a major release as it contained a completely redesigned administrative interface developed by Happy Cog. Matt Mullenweg was so excited about this redesign that he created a screencast providing a tour of the new interface as well as the new features.
Lukewarm Reception For WordPress 2.5
Looking back at a number of posts announcing the release of WordPress 2.5, many of them were positive. However, shortly after its release, a number of users started to complain that the usability of the new design was a step back from previous versions. Most of these complaints originated from users of WordPress.com. This prompted Jen Mylo to conduct a usability testing report with 2.5 and a new interface that was codenamed Crazyhorse.
You can read the entire report in PDF form. The gist of the report is that the Crazyhorse design was far more usable than what Happy Cog developed in WordPress 2.5.
The second round of testing blew everyone away. The research team had never seen such consistent results. Tasks were completed faster, participant opinions rated it higher, understanding of how interface elements worked was greater, and it wasn’t even a fully functional application. Of the test participants, every single one said they would choose the prototype over their current administrative interface, and it wasn’t even pretty.
This was a disappointing discovery considering all of the work Happy Cog put into the redesign. The success of Crazyhorse meant that users had to endure another major change to the user interface. Users were not happy. However, the usability improvements in Crazyhorse which later became WordPress 2.7 “Coltrane” were worth the struggle of going through another major change to the user interface.
Keeping Bad Advice Out Of WordPress
My hope is that Zeldman and Happy Cog both learned their lessons with WordPress 2.5. Despite their research and testing, the redesigned interface failed to deliver. It would be a shame to see that type of advice filter into Jetpack, WordPress.org, or other projects. Since WordPress 2.5, all major interface redesigns have taken place in house.