What does ‘ease of use’ even mean?

What does ‘ease of use’ even mean?

It's hard to live at a digital agency and not encounter some form of this question:

"Which is easier to use, Drupal or WordPress?"

If you have an immediate answer to this question it might say a lot about what you use a content management system for.

"Ease of use" sounds like a simple idea. Something is generally easy or it isn't. But think about how many things are easy for you now that weren't at some point in time. 

I fell off my bike the first time I tried. But now, riding a bike is "as easy as riding a bike." The reason: I learned what to do and I was able to internalize it to the point where I stopped even thinking about riding the bike and I instead was simply using the bike to get to where I needed to go. 

The same can be said for driving, cooking, or not getting my hopes up on my Washington D.C. sports teams ever winning another title. Once you get the hang of it, it becomes "easy."

But there's another part to this notion of “easy.” I like to think of the tortoise and the hare schools of thought. 

Some things that are "easy" at the beginning end up coming with a cost that is much more difficult to deal with months or years later. This *can* be true of a CMS like WordPress. Originally built as a quick-publishing blogging tool, WordPress has raced out to establish a level of "dominance" in the web publishing world. 

It's a frigate, that if configured a certain way, can be upsized to a light cruiser. Sometimes, maybe even a heavy cruiser. Ask it to do the work of an aircraft carrier, however, and there's a good chance that it can show strain and end up being a disappointment. This, of course, isn't the case for every instance of WordPress, but it's fair to say that more often than not, this is the case. 

Drupal, on the other hand, was developed as a much more complex platform to handle large amounts of content, and an exponentially greater number of user roles and permissions. This means it can take some time to get accustomed to all of the power you have at your fingertips. It is also worth the effort to configure the interface to align with the needs and skills of your different users. 

This underscores the need for a proper configuration. Nearly every time we hear a complaint about Drupal, we find that when we're able to "look under the hood" and see how it was configured, our developers say some version of the phrase "I would NOT have done it THAT way."

Just as it's important to keep the content separated from the design rules in a CMS, it's vital to separate judgment of a CMS from how it's configured.

At Balance Interactive, how we configure Drupal is a major part of how we differentiate ourselves from our competition. Starting with deep user research, we make sure we understand both your audience and your staff's needs. 

When you think of the phrase "ease of use" it's important to parse it out a bit. One way to re-phrase it would be to say "Our CMS must be easy for ROLE to do TASK." This is a valuable first step in undertaking a fair and clear-eyed evaluation of a content management system. 

One way to answer that would be: "Our CMS must be easy for BOARD MEMBERS to UPDATE THE HOME PAGE." That, however, is probably not a likely scenario. 

"Our CMS must be easy for COMMITTEE MEMBERS to UPDATE MEETING NOTES" does sound more feasible. If this were the only or primary criteria, WordPress could end up being your choice, as it has numerous widgets and WYSIWYG editors all designed to make this particular task "easy."

However, there is another use case that should be considered. It is often the main factor in why a majority of our clients first come to us for help.


This is a great example of "ease of use" that never emerges during the day-to-day crises of content management.  But over time, lack of support for this need can result in a system that needs to effectively be blown up to get back on track. 

It's for this reason that Balance Interactive is proud to point out to anyone who will listen that five years after a redesign, 80% of our enterprise-level Drupal clients have not re-architected or re-platformed their websites.

We are also excited to see how Drupal has evolved to help users better manage and update individual pages. We are actively using something called Paragraphs, which 
allows content editors to select pre-themed page elements to create flexible layouts.  

[Our lead developer, Krystee Dryer, recently led a wildly popular session on using Paragraphs as part of Drupal 8 Day, a day-long virtual global series of training sessions. You can watch the replay of the session here]

From our experience working with numerous clients with wide varieties of users, members and target audiences, we understand that there is often as much vernacular that is inconsistent between audience segments as there is language that is similar. 

"Ease of use" is yet another example of a phrase that can mean very different things to different people.

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