People have described WordPress as “intuitive,” but in fact we’ve known since at least 1994 that no user interface, online or off, is “intuitive.” If you grew up driving a horse-drawn buggy (people still do), then it’s obvious to you that the way to turn your vehicle to the left is to pull on the left rein (but not too hard). If, on the other hand, you grew up with automobiles, it’s obvious to you that to turn your vehicle to the left, you twist the steering wheel to the left.
Come to that, I recently drove a rental car that didn’t have an ignition key. There was an RFID chip in the car opener that transmitted a signal to the start button. If you had the car opener in your pocket, you could press “Start” and the car would start. If you didn’t have the opener, you wouldn’t be able to start the car.
Since I’ve been turning the key in the ignition for 32 years, I did not find this user interface at all intuitive. It was easy enough to learn to do, but every time I got in that car I had to consciously remind myself how it worked.
So let me repeat what has been repeated (and ignored) for decades: there are no intuitive interfaces. There are only familiar interfaces. If the knowledge/skill you already have is very close to that needed to use the new interface, the interface will be easy to use, so you’ll describe it as “intuitive”. Once you have driven one car, it will be pretty clear how to drive most other cars (barring the Formula 1 types, semi-trucks, and funny ignition dongles).
If you’ve been working with WordPress for a while, then WordPress seems “intuitive.” And perhaps the WordPress admin is more similar to other tools we’ve used in the past than that of some other CMSes. But if you think about it, there is nothing at all intuitive about having to go to three or four different screens just to get your home page to look the way you want it. Even WordPress.com users complain about the non-intuitive nature of WordPress.
This is why the move to put everything in the Customizer makes sense. WordPress developers and long-time users don’t care much for the Customizer, but new users find it more “intuitive” because it’s a more WYSIWYG experience. They can look at the home page and change almost everything they see on it: the site title, the menus, the sidebar widgets, the background, the header…
So far as I can tell from dealing with my own clients (and from those complaints to WordPress.com support), non-technical people expect all software to work the same way as the software they use most often. In many cases this is Microsoft Word, though in corporate environments it might be Excel or PowerPoint. None of these programs is all that intuitive, but if you’ve been using them for years, they make sense to you. Likewise, if you’re coming to WordPress from a graphic design background, you’re probably going to expect it to work like Photoshop.
Both Word and Photoshop share a pretty simple operational premise: you put your cursor somewhere and insert whatever it is you want to put there: text, images, even files. And then it stays where you put it. This is SO not the way WordPress works…but it is pretty much the way Wix works, or Medium for that matter.
So what’s the solution? Does every product have to have an interface just like every other product? Of course not—otherwise we would be pulling reins to steer our cars. But when your user interface is not what the user is expecting, you need to show the user what to do. And although the WordPress Core team has not made WordPress intuitive, they have made it easy to learn.
With regard to WordPress, showing the user what to do can take several forms. Here are a few actions you can take to reduce client complaints about how hard WordPress is to use.
- Don’t expect what’s obvious to you to be obvious to your clients.
- Explain up front that WordPress doesn’t work the same way as the software they’re familiar with.
- Emphasize the fact that WordPress is easy to learn and there are many resources for people who need to know more.
- Sit down with the client (face to face or with screensharing) and walk through how to do everything the client needs to do on the site.
- Install Sidekick or WP101 tutorial videos.
- Provide written documentation of any non-standard feature (e.g. anything that isn’t creating pages).
- Remind clients that WordPress needs routine maintenance, just like a car, so it’s important to do updates and backups or hire someone to do them
- When appropriate, consider a front-end editing plugin, a page-building plugin (one that degrades gracefully), or Advanced Custom Fields to make it easier for the client to know where to manage each type of content on the site. (All of these solutions have drawbacks, so they should not be applied indiscriminately.)
- And please, if you develop WordPress plugins or themes, don’t describe them as “intuitive.”
P.S. I wrote this post in Microsoft Word, but only because Chrome has been crashing on me.