WordPress.com, and user testing, by phone

Recently, I’ve been helping someone use WordPress.com remotely, over the phone, which has been more difficult than necessary because WordPress.com has two interfaces.

As a combination they’re a little confusing to use at times. There’s the original “WP Admin” and the newer, “improved”, Editor. Here are a couple of screenshots:

WordPress Admin - Edit Post The original “WP Admin”

WordPress Editor - Edit Post The new WordPress Editor

Both interfaces have pros and cons for different people and different situations, and I’m not going to discuss each in detail. I can see why there was a need to create the second, new, Editor — over the years the original WP Admin has become bigger and more complex, and increasingly daunting. And I can see why they don’t want to get rid of the original WP Admin — radically changing the interface that thousands or millions of people use every day would be a customer support nightmare.

But, if we make the assumption that the only current option is to have both interfaces operational, for different people or uses, here are a couple of things that create confusion:

  • When looking at the new Editor (which I think is the default), there’s a link in the left-hand menu to the old WP Admin. But there’s no obvious way to get back again, from the old WP Admin to the new Editor. And that link to the old WP Admin opens in a new browser window or tab. It’s very easy to end up with multiple tabs open without realising it, all containing different versions of Posts, Pages, etc.

  • When editing a Post in the old WP Admin there’s a banner suggesting you “Switch to the improved editor.” This changes the view to the new Editor (in the same tab/window this time), but there’s no way to switch back to the old WP Admin (other than your browser Back button). The left-hand menu does have a “BACK” link, but this doesn’t take you back… it takes you to the list of Posts, still in the new Editor.

While each interface gives you a sense of where you are within it, switching between the two makes me feel lost. I have no sense of where I am in the system as a whole, or the two interfaces’ relation to each other. I’m not sure what the new Editor is even called (I’ve named it “the new Editor” consistently here to try and avoid some confusion).

I think I want more of a sense that I’m switching between two parallel interfaces, and that I can switch back and forth between equivalent screens. Personally, I’d like an always-visible form of navigation that names the two interfaces consistently, so I can always go directly from one to the other.

You might say “well, don’t switch between them then!” But there are, I think, some things which can only be done in the old WP Admin. And also, if you’re finding your way around, it’s very easy to switch from one to the other and have no idea how to return to the slightly more familiar version.

Remote support

All of these confusions are amplified when trying to help someone use WordPress.com over the phone. It’s difficult enough to help someone use software when you can’t see what they’re seeing, but when you don’t even know which interface they’re using it’s even worse.

Is it blue and white? Or does it have a black menu on the left-hand side? Unless you’ve changed the colour scheme under “Users” and then “Personal Settings” in which case the menu could be any colour… OK, what shade of blue is it?

Without any sense of where you are, or which interface you’re using, and with new browser tabs sometimes opening as you switch between them, it only makes helping someone more difficult.

I’ve seen other friends recently talk about the difficulties of remote support, including Dan Hon in a recent newsletter. It makes me wonder if anyone who does user testing for websites (as it’s websites I’m most interested in) tests for the ease of remote support.

I mean, usually when doing user testing, you might give someone a task and sit them in front of your website and watch how they do. Perhaps, as well, you could give someone a task and sit them in front of your website, but they have to talk a second person through how to complete the task. The second person is in another room, on the phone, and is using a different web browser, with a different monitor resolution, and is starting from a different web page. I’m sure this set-up could be improved and made more rigorous — I’m not a user testing expert — but you get the idea. I suspect it would highlight things which are inconsistent or hard to describe.

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6 Jun 2016 at Twitter