Keynote by Karen McGrane at DrupalCon Portland

DrupalCon Keynote

It’s day three for Steve and I at DrupalCon Portland (we taught the Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Drupal on Monday).

This morning’s keynote is by Karen McGrane (@karenmcgrane), a user experience and design expert. Her topic is “Thriving in a World of Change: Future -friendly Content with Drupal”.

The session guide says: “In this session, Karen will explain how Drupal is the future of adaptive content. She’s not saying that like she’s some kind of Drupal fangirl (though she is.) She’s saying that as a long-time information architect, content strategist, and user experience designer, she sees content through the eyes of the people who create it and maintain it. She’ll explain why—from her perspective—Drupal’s content modeling tools and flexible UI make it a powerful tool in our fight against the future.”

Video of the keynote

Karen’s part of the presentation starts around the 25 minute mark:

{snippet dcportlandkaren}

Summary and thoughts

Karen beings by saying she owes a lot of my professional success to this community.

Going back to the beginning: Print. Print was awesome! You put it on a page and it stayed there! Then we invented the web (which just turned 20!). The web has transformed how we communicate with each other. For the past 20 years, we’ve been able to get away with trying to put the printed page on a computer screen. We had this false sense that we controlled their experience.

Today, people are accessing the web on all kinds of devices – and we’ve lost control. We can’t make the old assumptions any more. And this is the real transformation – the web is fundamentally different. Whatever the next devices might be, we have to realize that we have no clue as to what they might be and how the user might use them. We have to get beyond the idea that the same “container” can serve up information in the same way on every device.

Karen gave the example of the touchsreen – which didn’t work for a long time. But now, it does. Think about audio interfaces (ie. Siri) and how bad it is now. It won’t always be bad. How are we going to adapt our web content to audio?

The key is to make our content “future-friendly” now (and fully accessible).

From google glasses, to the iWatch, to digital signage. Manage the content all in one place, updated automatically to any device. Responsive design is just one solution to a part of the problem – we need true separation of content from form (this is the key issue). We can’t assume that the page will retain its integrity on any form factor.

This is a HUGE shift in the history of human communication. Visual styling has always been a significant part of the cue to meaning and understanding.

“The future of content management systems is in their ability to capture the content in a clean, presentation-independent way.” – Daniel Jackobson – Netflix

Karen made an interesting point – Xerox is the reason we have wysiwyg editors – they invented the laser printer. When we enable wysiwyg on the web, you’re treating it like a laser printed output. The modern web IS NOT a laser printer.

Our job is to create new interfaces – its blobs vs. chunks. (messy unformatted messes vs. clean, re-usable content).

  1. Structured content – no more throwing stuff in the body
  2. Semantic metadata
  3. Content packages – not pages
  4. A different kind of author experience.

1. Structured Content: the challenge is breaking out of our page-based mindset. Good example – Amazon.

  • what do we exclude/include on different platforms.
  • should long pages be broken into shorter ones?
  • will it work to reuse headings as links?
  • will it work to truncate body copy for teasers?
  • what fallbacks can we provide if our desktop content just won’t work? (responsive design does NOT fix the content problem)

2. Semantic metadata

  • this is a human problem – visual cues no longer give the content meaning.
  • ie. The Guardian. Newspapers provide editorial priority using layout and font-size. theGuardian created an algorithm to take the rigidly defined hierarchy into metadata that made the iPad version understand the priorities without re-making styling decisions.
  • metadata is the new art direction – Ethan Resnick
  • the effort we make today to put in the metadata into our content will help make our content future proof.

3. Content Packages

  • we need to get beyond making “web pages” and start making content packages.
  • we need to give them ways to assign packages to areas of the content page – a new author experience.
  • we need to build cars. “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”… attributed to Henry Ford though he never said it.
  • If graphic designers can give up the idea of pixel perfect layouts, content editors can give up the idea of shoving everything into the body field and designing it there.

So what is the future of Drupal UX?

It’s you.

In the Drupal world – its the developers, designers and site builders who will make this work. The real magic is in the decisions we make to streamline the interface for the content editors.


This session is well worth watching. She strongly believes that many of the ideas for the future of the web will come from the Drupal community.

The web isn’t print. We have a millennia of history with the content and the form being the same. We have 20 years with the web.
The way we create content must change. Our content will live on many different platforms.

Great presentation!


  • Rod Martin

    Rod holds two masters degrees and has been training people how to do "things" for over 25 years. Originally from Australia, he grew up in Canada and now resides just outside Cincinnati, Ohio. He has worked in both the non-profit and for-profit worlds, in small companies and large corporations. His extensive open source experience includes WordPress, Joomla and Drupal and he really knows how to help you get the most out of the system you chose. Rod plays ice hockey a couple of times a week and rides his Goldwing motorcycle pretty much everywhere he can.

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