Coming Soon: A Redesigned WordPress Admin Screen Planned for 3.8

If you use WordPress every day, you may not take much notice of the wp-admin screen anymore. More than likely you’re quickly clicking through to where you need to go, expecting the same old screen you see on every site. Hold on to your hats, folks, things are about to get exciting in the WordPress admin.

A talented group of WordPress designers and developers are redesigning the wp-admin screen. The project, led by Dave Martin, goes by the name of “DASH” on make.wordpress.org. It’s part of the new “features as plugins” style of core development that allows teams more flexibility to experiment with new features.

Joen Asmussen jumped in to help by submitting mockups based on the team’s ideas. After several iterations, the results are looking pretty tight:

dash-mockup

Although everything is not yet set in stone, the mockup should give you a good idea of how things are shaping up. You’ll notice a few distinct changes from the current admin screen:

  • Right Now -> changed to Site Content
  • QuickPress -> changed to Quick Draft
  • Quick Draft merged with Recent Drafts
  • Quick Draft will be a place for drafts, not complete posts
  • Activity section combines scheduled posts and comments
  • Header text will experiment with rotating through different languages/idioms

Q&A with WordPress Designer Joen Asmussen

joenI had the chance to chat with Joen Asmussen, who provided a look behind the scenes at the process for creating the mockups. By day, Asmussen is a designer at Automattic for the Data team and also works in other areas of WordPress.com. In his spare time, he likes to jump in and help out with core improvements. You may already know him as the designer of Twenty Thirteen, the default theme for WordPress 3.6

Were the results of the wp-admin dashboard questionnaire useful to you in creating the mockups?

Very! In order to redesign something, you must first thoroughly understand how people use it, so as such it was tremendously useful. Dave Martin ā€” illustrious project lead for “Dash” ā€” who ran the survey, initially sketched out all the ideas we’ve been working on in part based on that very feedback. This includes merging all the news widgets, rethinking QuickPress, making it all responsive.

Were you inspired by any other application dashboard designs you’ve seen recently?

Yes and no. Since user interface design is one of my great passions, whenever I see a new UI I almost subconsciously note things I like and dislike. So absolutely it’s going to be inspired by things I see and like.

The thing about the WordPress dashboard, however, is that it serves a number of particular use cases and needs to be flexible in ways that are unique to the product. For example, it’s difficult to make all dashboard widgets the same height (like the widgets in the Fitbit dashboard) without making them less useful for sites with a lot of content.

Given that the survey found that 92% of users never post with QuickPress and only 8% use it sometimes, why is it still in included in the mockups? Will re-naming and redesigning this feature help to increase its use?

I think it’s very important to keep in mind that surveys are glimpses into opinions. They can inform directions you want to explore but results can easily be misinterpreted. Does the fact that only 8% of 428 people use the widget “sometimes” mean that it should be removed? Does it mean it should be rethought?

I’ve never been a fan of the widget myself, but the idea of rebranding it “Quick Draft” and merging it with “Recent Drafts” immediately appealed to me. It’ll be your own self-hosted Evernote. It won’t a place for writing quick posts anymore, it’ll be where you jot down drafts to return to later.

The option to turn it off will of course remain in Screen Options.

Where do you envision plugin developers will be able to hook into the new wp-admin screen? Or is that not in the plans currently?

As you may have spotted in the mockups, one ambition for the project is to lay the foundations for an “activity stream”, a list of events that happen to your blog. I can think of nothing more appropriate to show in any dashboard than what’s been happening. Naturally, no WordPress activity stream would be complete without it being highly pluggable, so anyone can add events to the stream. That being said, it’s a really tricky UI and all efforts are on shipping something great for 3.8, so aspects of the activity stream may have to wait for a future iteration.

Plugins can still hook into the bottom of the “Right Now” widget (which is morphing into “Site Content”).

What is the plan for the dashboard for new WordPress installs that wouldn’t have any data to populate these various sections?

We’re still working out many details, and much of the UI is still in flux. This is just one area we’re giving attention at the moment. Obviously Quick Draft won’t show many previous drafts, “Site Content” will show mostly zeroes and there won’t be any recent comments. We can’t magically increment any of those sections, but maybe we can have some fun instead. Remember when Gmail would recommend you go to Google News when you’d emptied your inbox? I thought that was kind of fun.

There’s also still a welcome screen for fresh users.

Will custom post types be included in the “Publishing Soon” section?

This has been brought up several times in the chats, and the answer is “we really want to.” We want to include custom post types in “Site Content” as well. With our eyes fixed on 3.8, I doubt anyone can make promises, but obviously if a developer stepped up and said “I want to make this happen”, no-one would stop them.

The DASH project team is working hard to have this ready for the WordPress 3.8 release. How long has it been since we’ve seen any major changes to the admin screen? Do you like where it’s headed? What would you change?

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