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This Week In Drupal: Settings Tray

Updated: May 30, 2019

By: Luke Anderson, Strategic Solutions Group Director

At BT, we like Drupal because we think it's the most robust, stable, and flexible CMS in all of open source.  Our developers have argued that it's really also a framework, and we've used it even more for building B2B applications than we have for building websites.  But while our developers may love it, Drupal has always been hit with criticisms for being a developer's CMS, with some drawbacks in the UX for administrators as a result of a focus on an audience of coders.

Over time, Drupal has grown into several approaches to improve its ease of use.  By Drupal 7, Workbench gave us a streamlined 'My Content' dashboard for writers and editors, Adminimal gave us more intuitive styling to highlight important activities, and of course, Contextual Links gave us 'the gear'.  Panels matured and gave rise to Panopoly, which offers numerous improvements to the admin experience and also emphasizes in-place page building.  As Drupal 8 inched painfully towards reality, features like Quick Edit were backported to Drupal 7 and were incorporated into initiatives like Spark.  It's not as if the Drupal community wasn't looking for ways to bridge the gap between dev-friendly architecture and user-friendly administration. 

And this week, we take another step closer.

Tucked inside of this week's launch of Drupal 8.2.0, we're getting an experimental module called Settings Tray, which may sound at first like it should be coming from Redmond, Washington, rather than Portland, Oregon.  And yet, even that boring, corporate-sounding, turn-of-the-century-ish module name has been recently switched from "Outside-In", which seems like a wise move.  The renaming alone suggests that Drupal is accepting that there's value in approaching things in a way that's more accessible to a wider world of users.

For more on the philosophy and vision for this initiative, please read Dries's blog posts on this topic -- and check out the animations (from which I lifted the screenshot above).  The list of contributors working on this --starting with webchick herself-- shows the level of emphasis this is getting at Acquia and around the community.  As I see it, Settings Tray aims to empower Drupal admins to manage their sites' content and configuraiton without the cognitive load of constantly sifting through the admin pages.  In-context, compartmentalized configurations are already everywhere, and it's a great move for Drupal to move farther in this direction.

Now, maybe you're already thinking about some of the tension that we're bound to encounter in the adoption of outside-in thinking.  One of the core (ha ha) tenets of Drupal's approach to content management is what Myplanet calls the 'push model' -- we call our content 'nodes', not 'pages', for a reason.  We refer to this idea in other ways:  The separation of content from the presentation layer; Create anywhere, publish everywhere; The page is dead, and so on.  For the individual site builder or admin user, this tension will probably play out when someone changes a block (or a node or a menu or a view or anything else) from the inside out in one particular context, with a streamlined UI that may make it harder to notice all the other places it's being used around the site.

Of course, the developers of Settings Tray surely anticipate this issue and the UI will try to account for it.  Dries has made it clear that he sees this as a positive step for Drupal maturing in an increasingly competitive marketplace, and that's supported by client questions and frustrations we've heard here at BT.  Incorporating this into the default admin UX shouldn't be a question of if, but of how quickly we can make it clear and robust.  I'm looking forward to digging into D8.2.0 this week to learn more!

Where would you like to see more Outside-In thinking in Drupal?

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