KISS with CMS!

KISS – “Keep It Simple Stupid” – is often mentioned in relation to technology, but not very often observed. User Experience may be well established now as a discipline, but many systems are still woefully lacking in due consideration for users, requiring them to jump through lots of hoops to achieve their everyday goals.

Content management systems (CMS), including intranets, are an increasingly important kind of technology, one that more and more corporate staff are expected to deal with. Given its expanded role, it is vital that users should feel comfortable using their company’s system whenever they need to. For some users this will be an every day experience, and for others once a week, perhaps. Some users may access the content over the web on their PCs, others on their tablets or mobiles.

However frequently it is used, and on whatever platform, it is vital that users find their system intuitive and engaging – they should only be presented with the minimum level of complexity required to complete the task at hand, any extra complexity should be accessible in the background, but neatly tucked away. The tasks that take up 80% of your time as a user shouldn’t be slowed down by the ones that take up 20% of your time.

Being Useful Means Being Usable
It may be a tautology, but it is still one that is worth spelling out: a system is only useful if it is used, and it will only used if it is usable – hence careful interface design has a major role to play in the effectiveness of information systems. In an age when organisations are expected to produce a constant stream of timely and appropriate content, it is in their interests to decentralise the creation of content and the sharing of knowledge, to avoid the ever present problem of content bottlenecks. It is thus also in the interests of organisations to make their systems as easy to use as possible.

I have witnessed many different CMS systems in use, of all shapes and sizes, and some of them prove to be difficult to use because they employ inconsistent or unclear metaphors for interacting with content. I have sat through training sessions on some of the market leading CMS systems, where most of the time seemed to be spent explaining away idiosyncracies of the interface. The success of such systems often reflects the fact that sales are sometimes made purely in the boardroom, rather than with reference to everyday users.

A CMS system may in itself be excellent, but if the agency implementing a website or intranet is lacking a deep understanding of its inner workings, and best practices, you can be sure that users will have a hard time getting to grips with the implementation. On a number of occasions I have had to pick up projects where an agency has thought that a CMS just means editable text, rather than structured content, meaning that users were expected to user HTML in their editing process, when properly implemented the users should only need to worry about their own content.

The Influence of Software as a Service (SAAS)
If there is something that the explosion of Software as a Service has demonstrated, it is that given the right kind of intuitive interface, users can be up and running in moments with doing what they need to do, even if the more complex side of their activities may require some extra training or research. It should be just the same with a CMS system – get up and running in minutes, while you find out more about the advanced features as and when you need to. A good CMS system should be effectively invisible to users – if it is working, it should not draw attention to itself, the focus should be the creation, the curation and the consumption of content.

Kentico CMS – Easy and Effective
There are no doubt many CMS systems that could be used to achieve the appropriate mix of simplicity, engagement and sophistication for users, but my own personal preference is Kentico. Ever since I chose this as my agency’s preferred CMS platform, I have been consistently impressed with its mix of features and simplicity – when properly implemented, users find it so easy to get to grips with that they hardly need any training. At the same time, it can do anything it needs to, as well as being easy for developers to extend in any way required. Whichever tool you use to manage your organisation’s content – don’t forget to keep it simple!


A “Marriage Contract” for Successful Projects

When a client engages the services of an agency on a major project – an intranet or major web site for instance – the important elements of the contract are not necessarily those written on the paper to which the signatures are added. Given the high level of mutual dependency, intense frequent contact and joint expectations, this relationship can often feel like a marriage.

If it is going to work, the relationship must be fair,  the “marriage contract” must allow for trust and understanding on both sides. The agency, for its part, must undertake to keep the client’s goals firmly in mind, offering a good level of flexibility and understanding, as well as a commitment to a high quality outcome without trying to pump the price up every time anything changes. On the other hand, the client must understand that not everything can be known in advance – there will be human, organisational and technological challenges that crop up along the way, delaying the project, or requiring more effort and resources. The client must also understand that the agency is a business, that work costs money and that changing decisions costs time. Most importantly, perhaps, they should be willing to listen to informed advice and accept that any agency worth its salt will have some useful insight into what works and what doesn’t work in their own particular medium.

Like all marriages, the one between agency and client must involve mutual empathy and respect – liking each other helps too. Working in an often very exposed position, dealing with the high and often conflicting expectations and desires of the many and varied project stakeholders, the client Project Lead needs the agency to understand the pressure to deliver, they need to be know that when their neck is on the line, the agency will pull out all the stops to make good on promises made. Similarly, on the agency side of the fence, the project manager knows the importance of regular praise and thanks for their team – designers and developers work best when they know that the pride they take in their work and the time they spend debating the minutiae of interface design is being appreciated by the users.

Let’s be honest, we all spend a vast amount of time at work. When we are working hard, when we are putting our all into a joint enterprise, we need to enjoy ourselves, to feel fulfilled, to receive encouragement and positive feedback when it is deserved, in the client and agency alike. When the relationship goes well, when everyone feels liked and fairly treated, when everyone is looking out for each other, that is when great things happen, when the ideas flow.  At the same time, just like in any other marriage, there will also inevitably be some habits that may annoy each from time to time – but such is life – sometimes we must all bite our tongues.

Now the project is over, just one question remains – who gets the bouquet?


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