A CMS will only be used if it is usable. Success depends entirely on staff being able to use the CMS more than just ease of use. Loosely, usability can be equated with “ease of use”. Beyond this, usability also includes:
- how quickly and easily a system can be learned
- how efficient it is for regular users
- whether users will remember how to use the system after a break
- how user errors are managed (and ideally prevented)
How to Evaluate
If authors do not make use of the CMS, the content quickly becomes stale, and the project fails.
System administrators must be able to manage the CMS, without constant recourse to the vendor.
Editors and reviewers also need to quickly manage their CMS work around existing responsibilities.
The published site (internet or intranet) must be well structured and easy to use.
Benefits of usability
Ensuring a content management system is usable delivers many benefits:
- deployment is simpler and quicker
- training needs are reduced
- resistance to change is lessened
- content is more frequently updated
- ability to conduct in-house maintenance and management reduces cost of ownership
- published site is used more frequently, and more successfully.
How to ensure a usable CMS
There is a range of practical steps that can be taken to ensure a usable content management system, including:
- Involve all stakeholders in the CMS project, to identify their issues and needs.
- Include usability as a criteria in the CMS tender, to be demonstrated by the vendor.
- Rigorously assess the usability of the potential solutions, including the quality of training materials and documentation.
- Design and implement the CMS with usability principles (and simplicity) in mind.
- Use light-weight usability testing for all aspects of the CMS, and the published pages.
- Include an interface designer, or usability specialist, in the CMS team.
James Robertson is the managing director of Step Two Designs, an intranet and content management consultancy based in Sydney, Australia. James specialises in intranet strategy, web content management, information architecture and usability.