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To celebrate by recent release from employment, I spent several days busting my butt to put the sexy back in administration. Namely, I updated the Drupal Navigate module to include some new features, and to fix some long-standing bugs that had been making administrators feel less than sexy for the last several months.


For the uninitiated, Navigate is an administration module that works a little like Administration Menu. It loads a sidebar with widgets which allow users to search the menu, nodes or users, construct favorite lists, and load up expandable / collapsable menus. It works really well for clients who aren't used to Drupal. The newest release allows admins to set default widget sets, and adjust user sets. You can also theme it (a funky lemon theme is included as an example).

There's a video demo below, but here's a quick list of improvements made in this release:

  • Made snappier through quicker transitions and fewer ajax calls
  • Added ability to manage default widget sets for users and user roles (all ajax, btw)
  • Made theming Navigate really easy
  • Fixed compatibility issues with Administration Menu
  • Added keyboard shortcuts
  • Added XHTML compliance
  • Added import / export ability for Favorites and for entire widget sets, so you can quickly deploy a set from one site to another
  • Added 'customize' permission, to keep *certain* users from messing up their own sets
  • Added ability to search users
  • Squashed some bugs
  • Re-factored lots of code to be more Drupal-esque
  • Made some minor layout adjustments

I'm hoping to put in some work to help with the current administration tools in D7, but before that, I needed to grease my wheels a bit with some contrib work to to anchor some jQuery techniques I'd learned, and re-familiarize myself with D6. It feels good getting so much done so fast. You can do that with contrib work, but it's hard to be that productive in core Drupal. Things just move at a different pace there. Now that I've gotten a bit out of my system, I think I can crack down a bit and start seeing what I can do for core.

And here's the demo video to celebrate Issue Queue Zero (at least for the D6 version):

I like earbuds because they're so compact, but they're kind of annoying to stuff into your pocket. They invariably get tangled, and they often get bent in funky ways, especially if you wrap them around something. I scoured the web looking for some good cases, and didn't really find anything that would fit nicely in my pocket. There are lots of tutorials online for building your own, but after experimenting with a couple Altoids tins I trashed the idea.

Later, in a wave of pure inspiration (probably induced by a sugar binge), I discovered the perfect receptacle: a pill bottle. Below is a picture with instructions. These work perfect for the newest iPhone earbuds without the permanent disfigurement that comes with wrapping wire incorrectly.



  1. Fold earbuds in half
  2. Fold in half again
  3. Fold in half again
  4. Fold in half one more time
  5. Slip into pill bottle, you shouldn't need to bend anything to get it to fit, though the twisting motion of putting on the lid will help spin any extraneous bits down into the bottle.

Today I'm reviewing several screen-sharing apps to conduct some remote usability testing. These particular tests have some interesting constraints:

  • My subjects are parent-volunteered kids, 8-16 years old and all in the same family
  • I'm on a mac, they're on PCs
  • Tests should be about 45 minutes long
  • If possible, I should be able to take over the screen to type in URLs

I tested on the following hardware

  • Presenter: Windows XP with 1920 x 1200 resolution
  • Client: Macbook pro running Leopard


Pretty good, but not quite good enough for usability testing.

  • Free
  • Marginal refresh rate (I foresee missing some important clicks and mouse wandering)
  • Requires registration of host and client for optimal use
  • Very easy transfer of control to attendee
  • Nicely integrated chat notifications (for passing URLs, for example)


Pretty much pure awesomeness after looking at all the other apps.

  • Not so free (free for evaluation, $39/mo or around $650 for full license)
  • Awesomely spectacular refresh rate
  • Transfer of screen control is more difficult than with Yuuguu, but not bad
  • Presenter can run a small executable without having to install anything
  • No account is needed on either side, however the presenter has to type in a 9-digit code plus 4-digit password to connect.


Very simple interface, but didn't quite cut the mustard. The Mac version has a permanently disabled 'preferences' menu item, indicating it's probably in beta whether they say so or not.

  • Free
  • Uber-simple interface
  • Extremely crappy refreshing, probably totally unusable for a usability test
  • Registration needed by host, but not client


Not too bad, except for that refresh rate. Darn you, TeamViewer, you've spoiled me!

  • Free
  • Surprisingly works for a mac
  • No installation required
  • No accounts required, just pass a (long) code (and don't forget to type the dash)
  • Fairly dismal refresh rate
  • Rather obscure interface (screen sharing button is a black box in a gray box in a another gray box)

Bosco's Screen Share

I *maybe* should have been wary of the playful doggy-centric identity, but I gave it a go anyway. Apparently you have to configure your router and firewall to get it to work. I don't think I'm going to start a usability test with a router configuration. No sir.


Pretty cool stuff, especially the 3D conference room motif </toungeincheek>.

  • Free for 1-to-1 meetings
  • Web-based, you just need to pass a code. You might need to install some Java though, which could really hang things up in a usability test.
  • Absolutely the worst refresh rate of all the apps
  • Setting permissions for different attendees is pretty nifty
  • Lots of features, like voice and webcam sharing
  • Did I mention the horrible refresh rate?


I guess we'll be using TeamAssist tomorrow on an evaluation basis. The other apps just don't compare in terms of refresh rate.

Sources - Good leads on several apps - Good list, not entirely accurate

Below is a live list of Drupal usability resources and issues I want to work on. Right now, it's just links, but I'd like to put together some help for people just getting started with tackling usability issues. There's a lot of really great initiatives right now, and some good improvements to the Drupal issue queue workflow, but it's a little overwhelming, even for the veterans. I would assume there are two main audiences to address: 1) Those who want to learn more about what's going on, and 2) Those who want to get down to business (designers, coders and communicators). pages

User Experience (in Community Initiatives section, some organization of a few patches)
User interface best practices (great list of links to explore)
Helping with Usability (in Contribute section)
Improve usability (in Getting Involved section)  

Issues tagged 'usability'
Issues tagged 'needs usability review'
Issues tagged 'killer end-user features'

External resources

Usability group on - Issues discovered during the 2009 UofB usability testing - What's going on with the Drupal 7 redesign by Mark and Leisa

Issues I want to read

Vertical tabs - This issue will nullify several other issues if it goes through, so I'd like to see if I can link up the discussions a bit. The 'promoted' is one issue I've been working on that applies.

I had short, but interesting dialog with sun on regarding how to go about getting a better menu interface into core. Sun maintains the Administrator Menu project and it sounds like the module might be earmarked for core inclusion in Drupal 7. The discussion got me thinking about what it would take to unify the efforts of module creators and maintainers and develop really solid api and tool set for getting around in Drupal. I maintain the Navigate module, which is a proof of concept for the kinds of tools I'd like to see, and I've been trying to decide if I should continue improving the module, or see if I can combine efforts with other like-minded folks in the community to can get something good enough for core.

Leisa, the usability professional working with Mark Boulton on the new Drupal 7 design, mentioned that what Drupal really needs is a genuine interfacelift (get it, interface + facelift? </whimsy>), not just small incremental changes. To this end, they set up a booth at Drupalcon soliciting ideas for improving Drupal's administration system, and have recently posted the videos. This 'facelift' might be a perfect opportunity for getting the infrastructure required for new - more usable - tools into core.

It's premature for me to assume that this kind of effort would be welcomed in the community or that I will have the resources to head up the process, but - at least in my head - it seems like it could have a much more lasting impact than releasing an updated version of a single administration module among many.

I made a decision a while back to starting working through the established cannon of usability / user interface design books. The first book I picked up was Designing Visual Interfaces by Kevin Mullet and Darrell Sano. In the book, they break down the different aspects and components of design and offer examples both in software interface design as well as other disciplines like poster and map design. Many of the poster examples were (forgive me if I use the name to broadly) fairly modernist. Probably the most remarkable feature of these pieces was the use of restraint and subtle proportioning.

Restraint is an aspect of design (and life) I've wanted to improve the execution of for quite some time. The irony with restraint, however, is that it can be distracting in excess. Remove too much of the cruft people are used to and they start to miss it. The trick - I assume - will always be in the blending the correct pinch of attractive cruft on a highly focused interface.

The theme of this site is a demonstration of restraint. I attempted to imply divisions and containment rather than make them explicit with lines and boxes. I also attempted to remove any elements that didn't serve the primary purpose of the site, which is helping visitors figure out who the heck this bozo Chris Shattuck is. I think it's reasonably attractive, but I know from experience that I think so only because of overexposure. Bad design is like coffee - it's crap at first, but force it down long enough and you actually start to like the stuff.

So, is this design a decent example of restraint, or has it totally missed the mark?

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