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Phase2: DrupalCon 2017: Reviewing the Impact

May 16, 2017 - 11:44am

DrupalCon 2017 may be over, but we’re still feeling the impact. Last week 20+ Phase2 team members and over 3,000 sponsors, attendees, and speakers converged on Baltimore for 5 days of Drupal.

In case you weren’t able to join us in person, here is a recap:

 

Impact At The Phase2 Booth

At this year’s conference, we focused on highlighting the impact digital technology, and specifically Drupal, has and can have on the world around us. We also drew attention to the fact that technology would be nothing without the incredible vision and talent of the people who fuel it.

Phase2’s booth was designed to showcase our event theme: “Vision + Technology: The Impact Is Infinite.”

We believe, and are energized by the fact, that digital technology allows one person to reach billions, with the simple stroke of a key.

And we know that the impact doesn’t end there...

When a vision is combined with technology, we have the power to set something into motion, the outcome of which is not entirely known. Actions build upon one another and inspire reactions, putting transformation entirely within reach - the impact of which is infinite.

We took our impact message and created a one-of-a-kind, interactive voting installation in the Phase2 booth. The voting station empowered DrupalCon attendees to come together and offer  their input by voting on important community issues.

DrupalCon attendees voted by completing the following sentences:

  • I want to live in a word where ______ doesn’t need an initiative, it’s just a given.

  • With _________, anything is impossible.

  • The impact of _______ is endless.

  • If we focused more on ________ what we can achieve is infinite.

With the words:

  • Privacy & Security

  • Accessibility

  • Community

  • Education

  • Diversity

Each vote deposited a corresponding color of sand in a plexiglass container. Voting data was displayed visually in real time as each person’s vote contributed to a unique piece of sand art.

 

The Results of the Vote

The final results are in and DrupalCon attendees voted to make an impact on “education”. In response to the vote, Phase2 will make a donation to The Digital Harbor Foundation, a local Baltimore youth tech education nonprofit. We were thrilled by the participation in our booth and inspired by the beauty of the final sand art and how it really was a great visual representation of  what we can achieve as a community!

 

 

Impacting the Drupal Thought Leadership

Phase2 was represented in six DrupalCon sessions and we were excited to invite some amazing clients on stage with us, including Pinterest, Turner (NBA), Score and Weight Watchers. Here’s the full session lineup - feel free to check out the video of each session:
 

One great Phase2 moment involved our Director of Engineering, Tobby Hagler, and his Dungeons & Dragons themed session. As a major D&D fan, Tobby has submitted this talk to DrupalCon multiple times over the years, and this year it was finally accepted! To commemorate his perseverance and the awesome subject matter we created a D&D themed t-shirt that everyone from Phase2 wore in support.

 

Caitlin Loos and Chris Bloom spoke on the success of Phase2’s BuilDesign Internship Program and offered some insightful strategic and tactical advice to agencies that are looking to build their own junior talent program. Watch the session here.  

 

 

The Impact is Infinite

We’re back from DrupalCon Baltimore exhausted, but exhilarated by the creativity and talent of the Drupal Community. We are reminded of the impact our collective talents can have on our lives and the world around us. It was an amazing week with team members, partners, clients and friends and we’re already looking forward to DrupalCon next year!

 

 

 

Categories: Blogs

Phase2: Pattern Lab: Taking Our Workflow from a Linear to Parallel Process

May 16, 2017 - 11:44am

Pattern Lab is many wonderful things: a style guide, a component inventory, a prototyping system, and the embodiment of a design philosophy, all wrapped inside a fundamentally simple tool – a static site generator. It has greatly improved Phase2’s approach to how we build, theme, and design websites. Let’s talk about what Pattern Lab is, how we use it in our process by integrating it into the theme of a CMS like Drupal or WordPress, and the resulting change in our development workflow from linear to parallel.

Note: We’ll be discussing this topic in our webinar on June 16th. Register here!

What is Pattern Lab?

Pattern Lab allows us to easily create modular pieces of HTML for styling & scripting. We call these modular pieces of HTML components – you may have already heard of the iconic atomsmolecules, and organisms. Pattern Lab provides an easy-to-use interface to navigate around this component inventory.

Pattern Lab also does much more: it fills the role of a style guide by showing us colors, fonts, and font sizes selected by the design process and demonstrates common UI elements like buttons, forms, and icons along with the code needed to use them. That part is important: it’s the distinction between “this is what we’re going to build” and “this is what has been built and here’s how to use it.” Pattern Lab provides a handbook to guide the rest of your complex CMS.

We can also prototype with Pattern Lab because it supports “partials.” Partials allow our components to contain other components, giving us modular components. This lets us reuse our work in different contexts by not repeating ourselves, ensuring consistency of our design across a wide set of pages and viewports, and reducing the number of bugs and visual inconsistencies experienced when each page contains unique design elements. It supports either low fidelity “gray-boxing” or high fidelity “it looks like the finished site” prototyping. You can see an example of this by looking at the “Templates” and “Pages” in Pattern Lab below.

To summarize, Pattern Lab is a style guide, a component inventory, and a prototyping environment where we can see our designs in the medium they are destined for: the browser! Now, let’s talk about the old way of doing things before we discuss how we implement this tool, and the difference the new way makes.

The Old Way

Generally speaking (and greatly simplifying), the old process involved several linear steps that effectively block subsequent steps: the goal of each step is to create a deliverable that is a required resource for the next step to start. The main point I want to make is that in order for the front-end developers to implement the designs they need HTML, so they have to wait for the back-end developer to implement the functionality that creates the HTML.

Front-end developers just need HTML. We don’t need the HTML required for the complex logic of a CMS in order to style it. We just need HTML to style and script so we can create our deliverables: the CSS & JavaScript.

To reiterate this point: front-end devs just need HTML, wherever it comes from.

Now that we’ve set the stage and shown the problem, let’s take a look at the way we implement Pattern Lab and how that helps improve this process.

Integrating Pattern Lab and the CMS Theme

Instead of keeping our Pattern Lab site (which contains our prototype and style guide) separate from the CMS, we keep them together. Pattern Lab is just a simple static site generator that takes HTML shorthand and turns it into HTML longhand. We just put the Pattern Lab folder inside the theme right here (for a Drupal site): /sites/all/themes/theme-name/pattern-lab/. Now it’s next to other fundamental assets like CSS, JavaScript, Images, and Fonts. Sharing these assets between Pattern Lab and our CMS is a huge step forward in improving our process.

Folder Structure

theme-name/ css/ style.css js/ script.js pattern-lab/ source/ # (HTML Shorthand) public/ # (HTML Longhand - a.k.a The Pattern Lab Site) templates/ *.tpl.php # (All our CMS template files)

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theme-name/

css/

style.css

js/

script.js

pattern-lab/

source/ # (HTML Shorthand)

public/ # (HTML Longhand - a.k.a The Pattern Lab Site)

templates/

*.tpl.php # (All our CMS template files)

Sharing CSS & JS Assets

With Pattern Lab inside our CMS theme folder, all we really need to do to “integrate” these two is include this HTML tag in Pattern Lab to use the CSS that our CMS theme is using:

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<link href="../../../../css/style.css" rel="stylesheet" media="all">

And then include this HTML tag to use the CMS theme’s JavaScript:

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src="../../../../js/script.js">

How This Helps

All a web page needs is HTML for its content, CSS for styling that content, and JavaScript for any interaction behavior. We’ve now got two ways to make HTML: programming the CMS (which takes a lot of time) to be able to let non-technical content editors create and edit content that generates the HTML, or using Pattern Lab to write “HTML shorthand” much, much quicker. Both of those environments are linked to the same CSS and JavaScript, effectively sharing the styling and interaction behavior to both our CMS and Pattern Lab.

Now, most of the time we’re not working with our clients just to make style guides and prototypes; we’re making complex CMS platforms that scale in some really big ways. Why would we want to waste time creating the HTML twice? Well, sites this big take time to build right. Remember that the front-end developers are usually waiting for the back-end developers to program in the functionality of the CMS, which ends up creating the HTML, which the front-end developers style by writing CSS & JS.

All we need is some HTML to work with so we know our CSS and JS is working right. We don’t care if it’s editable to content editors at this point, we just want it to look like the comps! Now that front-end devs have an environment in Pattern Lab with real HTML to style and script, we can bring the comps to life in the browser with the added benefit of CSS & JS being immediately available to the CMS theme. We are effectively un-blocked, free to work outside the constraints of a back-end bottleneck. This shift from a linear process to one where back-end and front-end development can happen concurrently in a parallel process is a major step forward. Obvious benefits include speed, less re-work, clarity of progress, and a much earlier grasp on UI/UX issues.

The New Workflow

With our style guide sharing CSS & JS with our CMS theme, we can pull up Pattern Lab pages exposing every button – and every size and color button variation – and write the CSS needed to style these buttons, then open up our CMS and see all the buttons styled exactly the way we want. We can get an exhaustive list of each text field, select box, radio button and more to style and have the results again propagate across the CMS’s pages. Especially when armed with a knowledge of the HTML that our CMS will most likely output, we can style components even before their functionality exists in the CMS!

As the back-end functionality is programmed into the CMS, HTML classes used in the Pattern Lab prototype are simply applied to the generated HTML to trigger the styling. It doesn’t matter too much if back-end or front-end start on a component first, as this process works in either direction! In fact, design can even be part of the fun! As designers create static comps, the front-end devs implement them in Pattern Lab, creating the CSS available in the CMS as well. Then, the Pattern Lab site acts to the designers as a resource that contains the summation of all design decisions reflected in a realistic environment: the browser. The designers can get the most up-to-date version of components, like the header for their next comp, by simply screen shooting it and pulling it into their app of choice. This frees the designers from the minutia of ensuring consistent spacing and typography across all comps, allowing them to focus on the specific design problem they’re attempting to solve.

When designers, front-end developers, and back-end developers are iteratively working on a solution together, and each discipline contributes their wisdom, vision, and guidance to the others, a very clear picture of the best solution crystallizes and late surprises can often be avoided.

This parallel process brings many advantages:

  • Front-end can start earlier – often before a CMS and its environment is even ready!
  • Easy HTML changes = quick iteration.
  • Back-end has front-end reference guide for markup and classes desired.
  • Pattern Lab acts as an asset library for designers.
  • Project managers and stakeholders have an overview of progress on front-end components without being encumbered by missing functionality or lack of navigation in the CMS.
  • The progress of each discipline is immediately viewable to members of other disciplines. This prevents any one discipline from going down the wrong path too far, and it also allows the result of progress from each discipline to aid and inform the other disciplines.
  • Shared vocabulary of components and no more fractured vocabulary (is it the primary button or the main button?). Pattern Lab gives it a label and menu item. We can all finally know what a Media Block objectively is now.

Conclusion

By decoupling the creation of a design system based in CSS and JavaScript (styling) from the process of altering the HTML that our CMS is generating (theming), we’re able to remove the biggest blocker most projects experience: dependence on the CMS for CSS & JS to be written. We avoid this bottleneck by creating a nimble environment to build HTML that allows us to craft the delieverables of our design system: CSS & JS. We’re doing this in a way that provides these assets instantly to the CMS so the CMS can take advantage of them on the fly while the site is being built concurrently, iteratively, and collaboratively.

Helpful Links
Categories: Blogs

Phase2: Features are not Reusable

May 16, 2017 - 11:44am

The original purpose of the Features module was to “bundle reusable functionality”. The classic example was a “Photo Gallery” feature that could be created once and then used on multiple sites.

In Drupal 7, Features was also burdened with managing and deploying site configuration. This burden was removed in Drupal 8 when configuration management became part of Core, allowing Features to return to its original purpose.

But, as the primary maintainer of the Features module, I sadly admit that:

“Features does not actually accomplish the goal of creating truly reusable functionality.”

Let’s look more closely the classic “Photo Gallery” example. Export your Gallery content type, your Image field storage and instance, your View and Image Style into a Feature module. You can copy this module to another site and install it to create a Gallery. But what happens if your other site already has an Image field you want to share? What happens when the namespace used for the features on your new site is different from the namespace of your original site? What happens if you want to add the gallery to an existing content type, such as a Blog?

The problem with configuration in Drupal is that it is full of machine names: content types, fields, views, dependencies, etc. You are supposed to prepend a unique namespace to these machine names to prevent conflicts with other modules and project, but that means you are stuck with that namespace when trying to reuse functionality. When you make a copy of the feature module and change all of the machine names, it becomes difficult to update the original feature with any improvements that might be made on the new project.

Basically, your Feature is not actually a reusable component.

Feature Templates

Towards the end of Open Atrium development in Drupal 7, we started using an architecture that allowed reusable functionality to be layered across multiple content types. The Related Content feature added Paragraph bundles but had no opinion about which content type you added these paragraphs to. This was accomplished using the Features Template module in D7, which allowed you to create a template of configuration and use it to create multiple instances of that same configuration across multiple content types. Until now, there was no way to reuse configuration like that in Drupal 8.

Introducing: Config Actions

The new Config Actions module helps to solve this problem and provides a replacement for both the Features Template and Features Override modules for Drupal 8. Config Actions is a plugin-driven module that simply does the following:

  • Load configuration from a source

  • Transform the config data and perform optional string replacements.

  • Save the new data to a destination

These actions are read from YAML files stored within your custom module config/actions folder. When your module is enabled, each action is executed, allowing you to easily manipulate configuration data without writing any code. If you want to write code, you can use the Config Actions API to easily manipulate configuration within your own update hooks and other functions.

Creating templates

Let’s take the “Photo Gallery” example and build a template that can be used by Config Actions:

  1. Use Features to export the configuration (content type, fields, views, etc) into a custom module (custom_gallery).

  2. Move the YAML files from the config/install folder into a config/templates folder.

  3. Edit the YAML files and replace the hard-coded machine names with variables, such as %field_name% and %content_type%.

  4. Create a Config Actions YAML file that loads configuration from these template files, performs string replacement for the variables, then saves the configuration to the active database store.

One of the edited feature configuration template files (field.storage.node.image.yml) would look something like this:

  1. langcode: en
  2. status: true
  3. dependencies:
  4. module:
  5. - file
  6. - image
  7. - node
  8. id: node.field_%field_name%
  9. field_name: field_%field_name%
  10. entity_type: node
  11. type: image
  12. ...

The resulting Config Action rule looks like this:

  1. replace:
  2. "%field_name%": "my_image"
  3. "%content_type%": "my_gallery"
  4. actions:
  5. field_storage:
  6. # name of yml file in config/templates folder
  7. source: "field.storage.node.image.yml"
  8. dest: "field.storage.node.%field_name%"
  9. field_instance:
  10. source: "field.field.node.gallery.image.yml"
  11. dest: "field.field.node.%content_type%.%field_name%"
  12.  
  13. content_type:
  14. source: "node.type.gallery.yml"
  15. dest: "node.type.%content_type%"
  16.  
  17. view:
  18. source: "views.view.gallery.yml"
  19. dest: "views.view.%content_type%"
  20.  
  21. ...

Not only does Config Actions perform string replacements within the actual YAML configuration template files, but it also replaces these variables within the action rule itself, allowing you to specify a dynamic destination to save the config.

Enabling the above module will do the same thing as enabling the original Gallery feature, but instead of creating a “gallery” content type, it will create a “my_gallery” type, and instead of a “image” field it will create a “my_image” field, etc.

Reusing a Template

By itself, this isn’t much different from the original feature. The power comes from reusing this template in a different module.

In your “myclient” project, you can create a new custom module (myclient_gallery) that contains this simple Config Action file:

  1. replace:
  2. "%field_name%": "myclient_image"
  3. "%content_type%": "myclient_gallery"
  4. plugin: include
  5.  
  6. module: custom_gallery

This will cause Config Actions to include and execute the actions from the custom_gallery module created above, but will use the new string replacements to create a content type of “myclient_gallery” with a field of “myclient_image”.

The “custom_gallery” module we created above has become a reusable component, or template, that we can directly use in our own client projects. We can control the exact machine names being used, reuse fields that might already exist in our project, and customize the gallery however we need for our new client without needing to fork the original component code.

If our new client project makes improvements to the core gallery component, the patches to the custom_gallery template module can be submitted and merged, improving the component for future client projects.

Overriding Configuration

Running actions is similar to importing configuration or reverting a Feature: the action plugins manipulate the config data and save it to the active database store. Any additional imports or actions will overwrite the transformed config data. These are not “live” (runtime) overrides, like overriding config in your settings.php file in D7 or using the Config Override module in D8. The configuration stored in the database by Config Actions is the active config on the site, and is available to be edited and used in the Drupal UI just like any Feature or other imported config.

For example, here is a simple “override” action:

  1. source: node.type.article
  2. value:
  3. description: "My custom description of the article content type"
  4. help: "My custom help of the article content type"

When the destination is not specified, the source is used.  The “value” option provides new config data that is merged with any existing data. This action rule just changes the description and help text for the “article” content type. Simple and easy, no Feature needed.

Config Action Plugins

Plugins exist for changing config, deleting config, adding new data to config, and you can easily create your own plugins as needed.

The Source and Destination options also use plugins. Plugins exist for loading and saving config data from YAML files, from the active database store, or from simple arrays, and you can create your own plugins as needed.

For example, the above “override” action could be rewritten like this:

  1. source: [
  2. description: "My custom description of the article content type"
  3. help: "My custom help of the article content type"
  4. ]
  5. dest: node.type.article

This specifies the configuration data directly in the source array and is merged with the destination in the active database store.

Conclusion

Config Actions addresses many different use-cases for advanced configuration management, from templates to overrides. You can use it to collect all of your site help/description text into one place, or to create a library of reusable content components that you can use to easily build and audit your content model.  Developers will appreciate the easy API that allows configuration to be manipulated from code or via Drush commands. I look forward to seeing all the the different problems that people are able to solve using this module.

To learn more about Config Actions, read the extensive documentation, or come to my Birds of a Feather session at DrupalCon Baltimore to talk more about advanced configuration management topics.

 

Categories: Blogs

Phase2: Why You Should Invest in Voice Assistant Technology

May 16, 2017 - 11:44am

In 1994, I was a huge fan of the X-Men animated series. I distinctly remember an episode titled “Time Fugitives”, which featured Cable, a time-traveling mutant vigilante from the future, talking to a floating cube that gave him historical information about the X-Men of the past. I never thought that technology would exist in my lifetime, but I found myself a week ago sitting in my living room asking my Google Home (which resembles an air freshener rather than a cube) questions about historical context.

Conversational UI’s - chatbot and voice assistant technologies - are becoming commonplace in consumer’s lives. Messaging apps alone account for 91% of all time people spent on mobile and desktop devices. Soon, almost every major smartphone and computer will be equipped with Siri, Google Assistant, Cortana, or Samsung’s Bixby. These voice assistants are even being integrated into common home electronics - televisions, set-top boxes, video game units, and even washing machines and refrigerators. Sales of home personal assistants are on the rise, with the Amazon Echo alone having increased sales nine-fold year over year. Search giants Google and Microsoft are reporting significant increases in voice searches, each claiming about 25% of mobile searches are now performed using voice.

Source: Should financial services brands follow Capital One on to Amazon Echo?, E-Consultancy, 2017

The trends are clear - conversational UI’s are only becoming more prevalent in our lives, and some predict will replace common technologies that we use today. And in order to continue to engage audiences wherever they are, in the way they prefer to engage, companies should be investing in developing apps that leverage these technologies at home and in the workplace.

Benefits of Building Applications for Conversational UI’s Now

While you may question the business benefits of developing applications that leverage conversational UI’s at such an early stage in the maturation of this technology, there are some clear benefits that come with being on the leading edge of leveraging new technologies to engage consumers:

Early adoption can lead to great PR

Standing on the leading edge and developing applications for these emerging platforms can present a great opportunity to earn publicity, and position your organization as an innovative brand. An example of this can be seen in this eConsultancy article about CapitalOne’s Amazon Echo skill.

You can test new market opportunities

Conversational UI’s may present an opportunity to engage with a market that your organization is not currently. You may identify opportunities to gain new customers, improve customer satisfaction, or create new revenue streams by extending existing products and services into platforms with voice and chat interfaces. Some companies are already starting to offer paid tiers for services delivered via or selling advertising on conversational UI applications.

Early adoption can provide a competitive advantage

While being first to market with a conversational UI app is not always a guarantee of success, it can provide you a leg up over the competition. If you start early, you will have an opportunity to identify best approaches to engage consumers on these new platforms, allowing you to have a well-defined experience once your competitors enter the market. Your brand may also be able to secure a percentage of the market share early due to a lower cost of user acquisition.

US consumers are creatures of habit, and prefer to go back to familiar stores, products, and services they trust. In an ideal scenario, your conversational UI application will become integrated into consumer’s work and or home life before the market is saturated.

Potential Drawbacks

In all fairness, developing a conversational UI application is not easy. There are some risks associated that we would be remiss if we did not inform you of:

  • This is still the wild-wild west - very few best practices or standards have been established.

  • It can be expensive to develop and implement, across the myriad of devices/services.

  • There is a potentially high learning curve depending on the platform you are building for and technologies you use to develop your app.

  • At this time, there are no clear methods for efficiently testing features on voice assistant applications.

  • Deployment of content to this various platforms may require use of many different CMS systems.

While there are risks associated with this starting to leverage conversational UI applications, the long-term benefits may outweigh the short-term losses.

Stay tuned for part 2, where we will discuss how you can start leveraging conversational UI applications to build your brand and grow your business.

 

Categories: Blogs

Phase2: Responsive Design Patterns to Create Penn State’s Beautiful Online Experience

May 16, 2017 - 11:44am

With the recent launch of Penn State University’s main site and news site, we were able to help Penn State breathe new life into their outdated online presence, to allow prospective and current students alike to have the best experience possible on a wide array of devices. Working closely with the PSU design team, we created a complete experience from desktop to mobile, utilizing popular design patterns that would help guide the user experience while never fully stripping away content from the end user.

Utilizing the Omega Theme, we used the default media queries of mobile, narrow and normal or otherwise known as under 740px (mobile), under 980px (tablet) and anything else above (desktop). These media queries really helped the PSU design team explore the possibilities of what was possible at each one of these breakpoints and how fundamental elements can be optimized for the device that they are being displayed on. Most notable were, menus, search, curated news boxes, and featured article headers were all areas where the PSU designers and Phase2 teamed up to bring out the best experience for each breakpoint.

 Menus:

Whether we are talking about main menus, secondary, or even tertiary, all menus have their place and purpose for guiding the user through the site to their destination. The PSU design team never forgot this principal, and substantial effort went into making sure menu items were reachable at all breakpoints. While the main menu follows standard design patterns, the desktop to tablet change is just a slightly more condensed version of the original, and made to optimize the horizontal space of a tablet in portrait mode. Moving down to mobile, we made the biggest changes. The main menu collapses to a large clickable/tap-able button that reveals/hides a vertical menu with large target areas, optimized for mobile.

 

The secondary menu also behaves in a similar fashion to the main menu by collapsing down to a larger clickable button that reveals menu items also enlarged in order to visually gain appeal while also providing a larger area for users to click on. The transformation happens earlier at the tablet level as we felt that the condensed horizontal space would make the tex-only menu items harder to read and more difficult to click on for smaller screens.

 

Search:

Search was another component that Penn State needed to emphasize  throughout the site. It was very important to leave this as simple as possible, so like the menus, it was decided to collapse the search, for mobile only, into a drawer reveal that focused on simplicity and a large focus area. Again, we went with a large icon that helped by having a large target area for the mobile and tablet experience.

 

 

 

Curated news boxes:

On the homepage, the curated news boxes provided a fun canvas to work with content that shifts around as the device changes from desktop to mobile. Knowing that space is limited in the mobile realm, it was important to provide something visually pleasing, but that would also still engage the user to click through a news story. So iconology was used to capture the specific type of news piece while the title was left to engage the user into clicking through to the story.

Mobile curated boxes

Tablet Curated Boxes

 

Featured Article Header:

Imagery was crucial to the PSU redesign strategy. It was only natural to have engaging treatments to the featured article headers. If the article header implemented a slideshow, we used flexslider. Otherwise, simple css scaled the images per breakpoint. The meta description related to the image would truncate and shift around depending on the breakpoint for better readability and appearance.

By implementing responsive design patterns, we were able to help the PSU team achieve their goal of making their online content and news accessible by any device.

Categories: Blogs

Phase2: Defining Content to Optimize your Editorial Experience

May 16, 2017 - 11:44am

No doubt you’ve heard the phrase “Content is King.” But what exactly is content? The precise definition is subjective – it is influenced by the context in which it is defined. There is no universal definition within the industry, and it is highly likely there is no single definition within your organization.

To have a successful content strategy, it is critical that your organization determines precisely what content means to you, as its definition will inform your entire editorial experience.

An Efficient Editorial Experience

When designing editorial experiences, there is inherent friction between system architecture and user experience. The more complex the structure, the less usable the editorial experience of your CMS becomes. Content strategists strive to follow best practices when modeling content, but these object-oriented models do not take into account the workflow of tasks required to publish content.

Modern content management platforms offer organizations a variety of entities used to build an editorial experience – content types, taxonomies, components, etc. Although editors and producers learn how to use them over time, there can be a steep learning curve when figuring out how to combine these entities to perform tasks, like creating a landing page for a campaign. That learning curve can have two adverse effects on your websites:

  1. You lose efficiency in the content creation process, leading to delayed launches and increased costs.

  1. Incorrect use of the CMS, resulting in increased support costs of ownership.

Content Management Best Practice: Focus on Tasks

Avoid these risks by designing task-based editorial experiences. Task-based user interfaces, like Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X, present quick paths to whatever task your content creator wants to accomplish, rather than allowing the user to plot their own path. The greatest efficiencies can be gained by creating a single interface, or multistep interface, for accomplishing a task. Do not require the user to access multiple administrative interfaces.

To enable this set-up, perform user research to understand how content is perceived within your organization and how users of your CMS expect to create it. This is easily done by conducting stakeholder interviews to define requirements. Our digital strategy team has also found success in following practices found in the Lean methodology, quickly prototyping and testing editorial experiences to validate assumptions we make about users’ needs.

To ensure the success of your content operations, define the needs and expectations of the content editors and producers first and foremost. Equally important, prioritize tasks over CMS entities to streamline your inline editorial experience for content producers and editors.

Categories: Blogs

Phase2: Phase2 Joins Forces with Cycle for Survival

May 16, 2017 - 11:44am

Over the past year, we’ve had the joy of working with Cycle for Survival to update the organization’s digital assets. But there’s more than one way to make an impact, so this weekend we set out to fundraise and participate in a Cycle for Survival team ride in New York City. Needless to say, it was a fun and inspirational event.

We invited Brandy Reppy, Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Associate Director of Online Operations, to share how digital technology has made an impact on the organization.

What is the Cycle for Survival mission?

Cycle for Survival is the national movement to beat rare cancers. Through a series of indoor team cycling events, Cycle for Survival raises funds that are critical for rare cancer research with 100% of every donation being directly allocated to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center within six months of the events.

Rare cancer research is drastically underfunded resulting in fewer treatment options for patients. With fewer resources devoted to understanding and treating these diseases, patients face uncertain futures – Cycle for Survival is committed to changing that.

How does digital technology impact your mission?

Fundraising for Cycle for Survival focuses on peer-to-peer interactions. Participants register online for an event and fundraise for their team via the website. Digital technology is pivotal to allowing participants to navigate our website easily during registration and fundraising. Our website also houses critical information for our participants and their donors, so it’s critical that they can access this information seamlessly.

In what ways does Phase2 support CFS in this effort?

With Phase2, Cycle for Survival is able to efficiently manage and update digital assets. These are key resources for our participants and donors – things like updates from around the organization, information on how to get involved, and what we are doing with the funds raised – that need to be easy to access. In working with Phase2, we’ve been able to streamline the process of maintaining these assets and branding elements.

What technical strides have we made together?

With Phase2, we’ve been able to be more efficient with time and resources spent on our digital assets and have been able to quickly manage our content. The major shift has been in having a responsive site (instead of a separate mobile one). This creates one seamless experience across many devices, which allows our visitors to easily access all their information from any browser or device, and allows us to manage one code base.

Categories: Blogs

Phase2: Developer Soft Skills Part 1: Online Research

May 16, 2017 - 11:44am

Developer Soft Skills

One of my earliest jobs was customer service for a call center. I worked for many clients that all had training specific to their service. No matter the type of training, whether technical or customer oriented, soft skills were always a included. Margaret Rouse said, “Soft skills are personal attributes that enhance an individual’s interactions, career prospects and job performance. Unlike hard skills, which tend to be specific to a certain type of task or activity, soft skills are broadly applicable.”

In this blog series I will be discussing what I call “developer soft skills.” The hard skills in development are (among others) logic, languages, and structure. Developer soft skills are those that help a developer accomplish their tasks outside of that knowledge. I will be covering the following topics:

  • Online research
  • Troubleshooting
  • Enhancing/Customizing
  • Integrating
  • Architecting

Part 1: Online Research

One of the first skills a developer should master is online researching. This is an area with some controversy (which will be discussed later) but a necessary skill for learning about new technologies, expanding your knowledge, and solving problems.

One of the best reasons for research is continuous education. For many professions (such as the military, education and medical fields) continuing education is required to keep up on updated information, concepts, and procedures. As a developer, continuing to grow our skill set helps us develop better projects by using better code, better tools, and better methods.

Search engine queries

When researching a topic on the internet it usually involves using a search engine. Understanding how a search engine works and how to get to the results.There are two parts to how a search engine works. Part one is data collection and indexing. Part two is searching or querying that index. I will be focusing on how to write the best possible query, to learn more about how search collect and index data see this link. In order to write good queries we should understand how search engines respond to what we type into the search box. Early search results were rendered based on simple (by today’s standards) comparison of search terms to indexed page word usage and boolean logic. Since then search engines have started to use natural language queries.

So we can get better results by using this to our advantage. If I wanted to research how to make a calendar with the Java programming language. instead of searching for keywords and distinct ideas “java -script calendar” by themselves; use natural language to include phraseology and context in our queries: “how can I make a calendar with java”. The first result from the keyword search returns a reference to the Java Calendar class. The first result from the second query return example code on writing a calendar in Java. The better the query the better the results.

Search result inspection

Once we have the right query we can then turn our attention to the results. One of the first things I do is limit the results to a date range. This prevents results from the previous decade (or earlier) to be displayed with more recent and applicable ones. Another way to focus our search is to limit the site that the search takes place on. If we know we want to search for a jQuery function search jquery.com.

Once we have filtered our results, it’s time for further inspection. When viewing a results page, the first thing I look for is the context of the article or post. Does the author and/or site have a lot of ads? This can sometimes mean that the site is more about making money then providing good answers. Does the page have links or other references to related topic or ideas? This can show if the author is knowledgeable in the subject matter.

The controversy

Earlier I mentioned online researching can be a controversial topic. One of the points of controversy is discussed in Scott Hanselman’s blog post, Am I really a developer or just a good googler? While I agree with his major point, that researching bad code can be dangerous, I contend that using a search engine can produce good results and learning opportunities.

Almost anytime you search for any programming topic, one site or group of sites is predominant in almost every result: Stack Overflow or the Stack Exchange group of sites. Several articles have been written about reasons not to useconsequence of using and why some developers no longer use Stack Overflow. Using Stack Overflow will not solve all your problems or make you a better developer.

Again, these arguments make some good points. But I think that using Stack Overflow correctly, just like good use of search engines, can produce good results. Using a Stack Exchange site comes with the benefit of community. These sites have leveraged Stack Exchange Q&A methodology for their specific topic or technology and can be a great resource on how to solve a problem within the bounds of that community. One of my development mentors told me that there were thousands of ways to solve a programming problem and usually several wrong ones. The key is to not do one of the wrong ones and try to find one of the best ones. Searching within a Stack exchange site for answers can highlight the wrong ones but also provide the ones that work best in that system.

Here is an example of a Stack Overflow Drupal community response that came up when I searched for: “drupal create term programmatically.”

This response is correct, but if you look at the link provided, you will see this is for Drupal 6. If you were looking for how to do this in Drupal 7, for instance, the answer provided would not be correct. We could have improved our results by adding “Drupal 7″ to our query. But most important is to keep in mind that sites like Stack Overflow, or other community sites such as php.net include a mix of user-generated responses. Meaning anyone can respond without being vetted.

Keep going

The best piece of advice I can offer for the arguments against using online search results and Stack Overflow is: “This is not the end.” Keep going past the result and research the answer. Don’t just copy and paste the code. Don’t just believe the top rated answer or blog post. Click the references sited, search the function or api calls that are in the answer, and make the research a part of your knowledge. And then give back by writing about your article or posting your own answers. Answering questions can sometimes be just as powerful a learning tool as searching for them.

In the end, anything you find through search, blog, and code sites should be considered a suggestion as one way of solving a problem – not necessarily the solution to your concern.

In the next post I will discuss a good use case for Stack Exchange sites, Developer Soft Skills Part 2: Troubleshooting.

Categories: Blogs

La Drupalera (en): La Drupalera, in the European Drupal Business Days

May 16, 2017 - 11:02am

This month, La Drupalera can’t stop. If some days ago, we told you about our success in DrupalCamp Spain 2017, where our colleagues Isaura Galafate y Bea González triumphed with their talks, now our Country Manager y Technical Leader, Rafa Martín, is news, because he is going to show one of our Case Study in La Drupalera, in one of the most important events of Drupal in Europe: European Drupal Business Days. Furthermore, La Drupalera, which loves contributing with the Community, takes part in the event as Partner community.

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Categories: Blogs

Manifesto: Looking back at our Spring Drupal Sprint

May 16, 2017 - 9:51am
On Saturday we opened the doors of the Manifesto studio once more to developers, site-builders and testers for a one-day sprint of Drupal contribution. An experienced bunch We managed to attract seven attendees to this sprint. Unfortunately we didn’t manage to bring in any first-time contributors. But the upside to having a room of experienced. Continue reading...
Categories: Blogs

InternetDevels: Drupal distributions and OpenFed as a great example

May 16, 2017 - 9:46am

With Drupal, there is no need to reinvent the wheel — the wheels are already in full motion! The vigorous community has created tons of ready made elements that make development easier, quicker and cheaper. What’s not covered by them can be custom made to fulfill whatever your heart desires. A great example are the contributed modules that Drupal has for all purposes, with custom ones being built for special features (see ready-made vs. custom-made modules).

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Categories: Blogs

Code Positive: Optimising content previews for Drupal 8 using Opengraph

May 16, 2017 - 7:34am

When we share our content on social media we have one goal in mind, people clicking on the link. This article looks at a simple and effective ways of achieving that goal.

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Categories: Blogs

Code Positive: Optimised content previews for Drupal 8 using Opengraph

May 16, 2017 - 7:34am

When we share our content on social media we have one goal in mind, people clicking on the link. This article looks at a simple and effective ways of achieving that goal.

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Categories: Blogs

Tim Millwood: Programmatically install Drupal 8 module

May 16, 2017 - 3:41am
Programmatically install Drupal 8 module timmillwood Tue, 16/05/2017 - 07:41

There are times, often in tests or upgrade paths, where we want to programmatically install a module. Here's how:

\Drupal::service('module_installer')->install(['workspace']);

Tags drupal-planet drupal drupal 8 Add new comment
Categories: Blogs

Agiledrop.com Blog: AGILEDROP: Third European Drupal Business Days with Agiledrop

May 16, 2017 - 1:52am
In the last blog post, we revealed that our development team will be present at Drupal Heart Camp Zagreb. But that won't be the only Drupal Event, where Agiledrop will be present at the end of this week. Namely, Marko Bahor and Iztok Smolic (our Commercial and Operations directors) will attend European Drupal Business Days in Frankfurt. That means that you'll be able to talk to us in person in two different locations across Europe, practically at the same time. From 19th to 21st May up to ten of our team member will be in Zagreb. On the other hand, Marko and Iztok will travel a little… READ MORE
Categories: Blogs

Evolving Web: How to Make Sure Your Content Editors Love Drupal

May 15, 2017 - 3:32pm

I train a lot of new Drupal users. Some find it easy-to-use and some find it a daunting maze of forms full of confusing terminology. Sometimes, it just depends on how the admin UI has been configured.

Here are some tips for configuring Drupal so that content editors using your site will love Drupal!

Give Editors Limited Permissions

Often users are overwhelmed by the number of things they can do once they're logged into Drupal. If you take the time to update their permissions and remove un-needed permissions, the administrative interface will be much simpler to use. Content editors probably don't need to modify image styles or manage view modes, so don't give them these permissions.

This is probably to single most important thing you can do to improve the admin UI, and has the added bonus of making your site more secure. It also makes it harder to for editors to break the site by accident by changing a setting they don't understand.

Configure the WYSIWYG Editor

One of the exciting things about Drupal 8 is that the WYSIWYG editor is built-in. But Drupal doesn't know out-of-the-box what HTML you have and who your editors are. That's why you can and should customize the WYSIWYG editor (Configuration > Content Authoring > Text formats and editors).

You can remove unneeded tools and add ones that are really useful (like Paste from Word and Paste as Plain Text). You can also configure the "Styles" and "Format" options that users can add from the WYSIWYG editor. 

Text Formats

Text formats are one of the keys to content editing success. Remember that text formats are associated with permissions, so your content editors will need to permission to use any given text format. They are also associated with content. If I save a piece of content using Full HTML, the next user who edits the content will also need permission to use that text format. Otherwise, they the text field will be disabled.

So make sure that your content editors have permission to edit all the text formats that will be associated with content that they need to edit.

Field Configuration

The more that you break up your content into nice, manageable fields, the more consistently you can collect and display content on your site. If your content editors are used to one large text box where they enter content on the page, they might not be so excited at first about a set of separate fields. So here are some tips to configuring fields so content editors will like them:

  • Make sure you're using the right field widget. Should you be using an autocomplete instead of a select box? Check out the widget settings on the Manage Form Display tab. 
  • Use help text when needed, especially if you need content in a certain format, or a particular image size.
  • Make required fields required. Don't make your content editors guess what's required for the content to look right.
  • When appropriate, add a default value.
  • Make sure the order of the fields in the admin UI makes sense, and is consistent across different types of content.
  • If you have nested Paragraph fields in your content, try changing the widget to display a preview of each one, instead of an edit form.
Content Type Configuration

Make it easy for content editors to pick the right content type by providing meaningful names and descriptions. Think of this as built-in documentation. Make sure you create different content types for distinct types of data, rather than using catch-all content types. At the same time, don't set up multiple content types with identical fields, since this will add to the administrative overhead of the site. Remember, you can always use taxonomy terms to distinguish different ways that content should be filtered/displayed on the site.

Hide the Cruft

There are lots of elements in the Drupal node edit page, like the 'Sticky at top of lists' checkbox, that can be easily hidden. If you're not using these settings, or if there are legacy fields that are no longer relevant, hide them! It's easy to hide fields from the edit form using the 'Manage Form Display' tab.

Preview

For those of you who haven't tried the Preview button for Drupal 8, it works a whole lot better than it did in Drupal 7. Your content editors might find this really useful. If you're using View Modes to control the display of content in different contexts throughout the site, you'll probably need to provide some documentation/instructions for you content editors, prompting them to switch the view mode when they're previewing.

Edit a Page with One Click

Ideally, content editors would be able to edit the main content of a page via a single 'Edit' link. If you're creating landing pages that have complex content, this can be difficult. You might be storing some of the page elements as blocks or related nodes.

You can use Paragraphs to set up compound content that's specific to the landing page, or use the Inline Entity Form module to allow users to edit content that's referenced from within your page, and displayed elsewhere on the site.

Create Dashboards or Custom Admin Views

Content editors like to have a landing page they can go to to see the overall state of content on the site. This might take the form of a dashboard, or it might be a series of customized content listing pages (which you can easily build with views). The idea is to give content editors an easy way to search and edit the content, as well as links to the admin pages they'll need most often.

Contrib Modules for Content Editing

The LinkIt module provides a nice interface for inserting links that your content editors will really appreciate.

The media management modules Entity Browser and File Entity Browser together to provide easy file-reuse. This is a usability win for content editors who are working with large libraries of files.

Use Field Group to group related fields together in the content admin UI.

Test

You need to test your content admin UI. Test what it looks like for different types of users. The Masquerade module can help with this. Make sure your list of tests include editing different types of content, making sure that any content that's migrated into Drupal can be edited consistently.

All of this is a lot of work, not a task to do the day before site launch. It's best to start thinking about the content admin experience the day you start building your site.

If you liked this blog post and want more step-by-step tips for setting up your Drupal 8 website, we have several Drupal trainings coming up online and in-person that you might like.

+ more awesome articles by Evolving Web
Categories: Blogs

Dries Buytaert: Think beyond with Acquia Labs

May 15, 2017 - 3:18pm

For most of the history of the web, the website has been the primary means of consuming content. These days, however, with the introduction of new channels each day, the website is increasingly the bare minimum. Digital experiences can mean anything from connected Internet of Things (IoT) devices, smartphones, chatbots, augmented and virtual reality headsets, and even so-called zero user interfaces which lack the traditional interaction patterns we're used to. More and more, brands are trying to reach customers through browserless experiences and push-, not pull-based, content — often by not accessing the website at all.

Last year, we launched a new initiative called Acquia Labs, our research and innovation lab, part of the Office of the CTO. Acquia Labs aims to link together the new realities in our market, our customers' needs in coming years, and the goals of Acquia's products and open-source efforts in the long term. In this blog post, I'll update you on what we're working on at the moment, what motivates our lab, and how to work with us.

Alexa, ask GeorgiaGov

One of the Acquia Labs' most exciting projects is our ongoing collaboration with GeorgiaGov Interactive. Through an Amazon Echo integration with the Georgia.gov Drupal website, citizens can ask their government questions. Georgia residents will be able to find out how to apply for a fishing license, transfer an out-of-state driver's license, and register to vote just by consulting Alexa, which will also respond with sample follow-up questions to help the user move forward. It's a good example of how conversational interfaces can change civic engagement. Our belief is that conversational content and commerce will come to define many of the interactions we have with brands.

The state of Georgia has always been on the forefront of web accessibility. For example, from 2002 until 2006, Georgia piloted a time-limited text-to-speech telephony service which would allow website information and popular services like driver's license renewal to be offered to citizens. Today, it publishes accessibility standards and works hard to make all of its websites accessible for users of assistive devices. This Alexa integration for Georgia will continue that legacy by making important information about working with state government easy for anyone to access.

And as a testament to the benefits of innovation in open source and our commitment to open-source software, Acquia Labs backported the Drupal 8 module for Amazon Echo to Drupal 7.

Here's a demo video showing an initial prototype of the Alexa integration:

Shopping with chatbots

In addition to physical devices like the Amazon Echo, Acquia Labs has also been thinking about what is ahead for chatbots, another important component of the conversational web. Unlike in-home devices, chatbots are versatile because they can be used across multiple channels, whether on a native mobile application or a desktop website.

The Acquia Labs team built a chatbot demonstrating an integration with the inventory system and recipe collection available on the Drupal website of an imaginary grocery store. In this example, a shopper can interact with a branded chatbot named "Freshbot" to accomplish two common tasks when planning an upcoming barbecue.

First, the user can use the chatbot to choose the best recipes from a list of recommendations with consideration for number of attendees, dietary restrictions, and other criteria. Second, the chatbot can present a shopping list with correct quantities of the ingredients she'll need for the barbecue. The ability to interact with a chatbot assistant rather than having to research and plan everything on your own can make hosting a barbecue a much easier and more efficient experience.

Check out our demo video, "Shopping with chatbots", below:

Collaborating with our customers

Many innovation labs are able to work without outside influence or revenue targets by relying on funding from within the organization. But this can potentially create too much distance between the innovation lab and the needs of the organization's customers. Instead, Acquia Labs explores new ideas by working on jointly funded projects for our clients.

I think this model for innovation is a good approach for the next generation of labs. This vision allows us to help our customers stake ground in new territory while also moving our own internal progress forward. For more about our approach, check out this video from a panel discussion with our Acquia Labs lead Preston So, who introduced some of these ideas at SXSW 2017.

If you're looking at possibilities beyond what our current offerings are capable of today, if you're seeking guidance and help to execute on your own innovation priorities, or if you have a potential project that interests you but is too forward-looking right now, Acquia Labs can help.

Special thanks to Preston So for contributions to this blog post and to Nikhil Deshpande (GeorgiaGov Interactive) and ASH Heath for feedback during the writing process.

Categories: Blogs

DrupalCon News: Get Ready for DrupalCon Nashville

May 15, 2017 - 12:51pm

As we conclude DrupalCon North America for 2017, it is with great excitement that we officially invite you to join us at DrupalCon Nashville! To stay notified on key dates, registration opening and call for papers leave us your email address and name here. Don’t forget to check the option for DrupalCon News under My Email Subscriptions to stay notified on the latest DrupalCon News.

Categories: Blogs

Drupal core announcements: Drupal core security release window on Wednesday, May 17, 2017

May 15, 2017 - 11:02am
Start:  2017-05-17 12:00 - 17:00 America/New_York Organizers:  xjm catch David_Rothstein stefan.r cilefen Event type:  Online meeting (eg. IRC meeting)

The monthly security release window for Drupal 8 and 7 core will take place on Wednesday, May 17.

This does not mean that a Drupal core security release will necessarily take place on that date for any of the Drupal 8 or 7 branches, only that you should watch for one (and be ready to update your Drupal sites in the event that the Drupal security team decides to make a release).

There will be no bug fix or stable feature release on this date. The next window for a Drupal core patch (bug fix) release for all branches is Wednesday, June 07. The next scheduled minor (feature) release for Drupal 8 will be on Wednesday, October 5.

For more information on Drupal core release windows, see the documentation on release timing and security releases, and the discussion that led to this policy being implemented.

Categories: Blogs

ThinkShout: What to Think About When You're Thinking About a Redesign

May 15, 2017 - 10:30am

Websites, like most things, have a lifespan. At first, they are new and shiny and aligned with both your organization’s goals and current web trends and best practices. As time goes on, however, technology continues to progress, and your organizational goals will probably evolve as well.

If you’ve worked through a full Discovery process to develop an information architecture that supports your organization’s core mission, then all you may need to update is the look and some of the site content. But if you haven’t engaged in an in-depth Discovery process before, you may find that your site is not only technically outdated, but also no longer reflects who you are as an organization.

So it’s time to think about a redesign. The good news is, starting your new project with a full Discovery will help you create a site structure that will serve your needs not just for the new version of the site, but for years to come. Additionally, if you build your new site on a widely-used and well-supported open source CMS platform (like Drupal or Wordpress), you won’t need to switch systems every couple of years. For example, Drupal 8, the latest version of Drupal, is expected to have a lifespan of 8-10 years.

Investing time and energy to develop a strong foundation now will set you up for success in the future. But how can you ensure your website redesign gets off to the right start?

Here at ThinkShout, we believe that technical excellence and award-worthy design should be a given, and that our focus should be on building you a site that helps you connect with your constituents and meet your goals. Through numerous discovery engagements with many different organizations, we’ve uncovered some key questions to ask during the initial requirements gathering phase that will help ensure the solution we create meets your needs and serves your mission.

Here are some things to think about when you’re thinking about a redesign:

What are Your Organizational Goals?

Before you dive into the specifics of your website, let’s take a step back and think at a higher level. Defining your organizational goals will help make sure that the solution you and your vendor create not only looks good and functions well, but will also support the fundamental mission of your organization.

So it’s important to take a moment to think about what your organization’s goals are. What issue are you working to address? What does success for your organization look like? The more specific and measurable these goals are, the better. Measuring your progress towards your higher level goals can help you assess the success of your project.

What are Your Project Goals?

Now it’s time to zoom in and focus on this project itself. Project goals should be tangible, attainable, and measurable. They may include a mixture of internal goals (perhaps relating to how you are able to manage the website) and external goals (how your users interact with the website: engagement, donations, tracking, etc.).

It may be helpful when thinking about your project goals to determine how they relate to your organizational goals. Can you map your project goals to the organizational goals they support? If not, perhaps you should consider if that particular goal for the project is even necessary – or if it can be deprioritized.

For example, if your organization is a local animal shelter, one of your organizational goals may be to increase pet adoption. Website project goals that support this higher-level goal might be to post profiles for adoptable pets online, or allow facilitate adoptions through your website.

Identifying and then prioritizing your project goals may also help you define what success will look like for your redesign project. How will you measure progress towards these goals? Which goals need to be met for the project to be successful?

Who are Your Audiences?

A website only adds value for your organization if your audiences use it, and mostly people will come to your website looking for information, driven by their own needs and motivations. If you focus primarily on your goals, you may end up with a website that is geared towards your organization’s needs and structures, but that does not allow your users to easily access the information they seek.

Defining who your audiences are will allow you to put your users first when redesigning your website. Once you know who your audiences are, you can determine what content will satisfy their needs, sparking the trust that will allow you to nudge them to take an action beneficial to you.

These questions are just a starting place for your website redesign. A full discovery process will delve more deeply into your programs and departments, your needs and wants, and what makes your organization tick. But asking yourself these three questions before you start will help give you an anchor to help you ensure that your new website engages your users and supports your mission.

Categories: Blogs

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