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An interview with Felipe Skroski: Designing SilverStripe 3, UI development and the future of content management

SilverStripe3edit

This year looks like it's going to be an important milestone for SilverStripe. For not only does it mark the 10th anniversary of the company that brought us the CMS, SilverStripe Limited, but it's also the year in which work has begun on the first major release of the system since it's launch in 2007. SilverStripe 3.0 is still very early in its development but it's already looking very promising, potentially offering huge improvements such as versioned assets, a reworked templating system and better separation between the CMS and the underlying framework Sapphire among other things. However probably the most exciting improvement will be a completely new HTML5/jQueryUI admin interface.

The man in charge of designing the new UI is Felipe Skroski, creative director at SilverStripe Limited. With nearly 15 years of experience designing, marketing and project managing for the web, Felipe is well placed to lead the process, so I caught up with him to talk about SilverStripe 3, UI design and the future of content management.

The interview

Felipe Skroski, Creative Director SilverStripe Ltd.

When did you join the SilverStripe team? Had you heard of SilverStripe before you joined?

I started here two years ago. I've heard about SS before that, but I hadn’t used the CMS before I started.

 

What aspect of UI design excites you the most? Where do find inspiration?

The UI design aspect that excites me the most is thinking of it as a whole experience package, it's how we balance performance, content, visuals, and interaction to create the desired results. As a visual designer I appreciate all forms of design and art, be it architecture, dance, circus, painting, fashion, product design, and so on. When it comes to user experience that's no better inspiration than having real life experiences with real people. I find inspiration traveling, trying new activities, learning new languages, listening to different music, talking to people who think, or are, totally different than me, trying different food, being open-minded as much as I can, and enjoying life.

 

 

What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of the current SilverStripe UI? Which CMS do you think currently has the strongest UI?

The main strength would be the site tree, users really love it and it's easy to manage the site structure with it. The weaknesses are the excess of actions/information per screen (eg: site tree + content edit + asset management) that makes hard to keep focus on specific tasks, the lack of visual hierarchy that makes hard to identify the most important actions, and the look & feel is a bit outdated. The strongest CMS UIs in my opinion are squarespace.com for the inline editing and wordpress.org for a great backend UI, one of the strongest in the open source world. I also like the simplicity of virb.com.

 

 

The current design visuals for SS3 look absolutely stunning. What sort of methodology have you followed to get to this point and what were the primary goals of the redesign?

We're using a version of user/human centered design (Wikipedia, ideo Toolkit). We start our process by understanding user needs. I've spent several hours myself interviewing and observing users on their environment, based on that we create personas, scenarios and use cases. We keep the focus on the user all the way through the design process. Another important component is collaboration, we are four designers working together on it, plus the community participation is being absolutely awesome, we're constantly releasing new concepts on github at github.com/silverstripe/silverstripe-design and discussing them on our dev list groups.google.com/group/silverstripe-dev/. I invite everyone reading this post to be part of it we really want to hear from you all :).

 

Do you think a complex system like SS can ever be completely intuitive to a user, or is training an inevitability?

‘User’ is a very generic term. For confident internet users who do their banking online, use Facebook and buy tickets and products, it can be very intuitive, but if the user in question is struggling with email, training will be difficult to avoid.

 

How do you imagine CMS systems will evolve over the next 10 years?

In 10 years, a lot of the internet as we know today will change, like:

  • Death of desktop computing for personal users - everything including software will be in the cloud, accessed by a single pocket device that you can dock into large screen workstations.
  • The first generation born with the internet will become consumers and key decision makers.
  • Wireless fast internet will become as common as electric power.
  • There will be new ways to interact with computers beyond mouse and keyboard.
  • Death of websites as we know it - If you use the literal definition of CMS as being a content management system, Facebook is the biggest CMS by volume of data and users in the world and it doesn't create websites. The same can be said for Google Docs and Twitter.

So in this scenario I think CMS will evolve to hosted solutions like virb.com and squarespace.com or to solid frameworks and UI kits to create the new web applications and that's the beauty of SilverStripe 3 - we call it CMS, some people refer to it as CMF, but it should be called something else like a web app SDK. Regardless of the name it's going to be a full-on development framework with a UI.

 

One UI design rule to rule them all: what would it be?

Simplify.

 

Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions Felipe, I am sure I speak on behalf of the whole community when I say we are thrilled that you are part of the SS3 team. One last question, what do you do when you want to escape the 'virtual' world and reacquaint yourself with reality?

I spend a lot of time staring at a screen, so in my free time escaping the virtual world is the rule. I like outdoor sports, now it’s summer here so I've been surfing and kite-surfing a lot. In the winter I like to snowboard, and when the weather doesn't help I train Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at the gym. If I'm not on sports, I'll be reading, cooking, photographing, or having a beer with friends, and when I have larger chunks of free time I'll be travelling or writing about it at noplacelikehere.com.

So what do you think about the plans for SilverStripe 3? Leave your comments or join the mailing list now!

Related Links

SS 3 Designs on GitHub

Felipe's website

SS 3 Roadmap Presentation by Ingo Schommer 

SilverStripe Developer Mailing list (join the discussions!)

 

Aram Balakjian avatar

Aram Balakjian

Aram is a web developer running London based agency Aab Web. He has a strong passion for developing attractive, usable sites around the SilverStripe CMS.

  • abyss
    04/03/2011 7:59pm (4 years ago)

    Hi,

    I am really thrilled by the progress and the activity around SilverStripe 3 when following the core development discussions on google groups.

    Pretty much like the idea of having an open discussion with interested users and getting some inside into the ongoing development.

    Keep up the good work guys. Looking forward for SilverStripe 3 :-)

  • schellmax
    04/03/2011 8:06pm (4 years ago)

    incredible.
    only thing i fear is: getting this design done in html/css/js is going to be... incredible, too.
    but i can wait. good luck and all the best!

  • Andrew Houle
    05/03/2011 2:38am (4 years ago)

    The UI improvements look unreal. This release cannot come soon enough. Basically, I'm stoked, that is all.

  • dario
    07/03/2011 10:51am (3 years ago)

    Very nice UI design. I like it very much.

  • Francisco Arenas
    07/03/2011 10:02pm (3 years ago)

    Felipe is doing an amazing job at SS.com we are all ultra happy with its current redesign of the SSCMS backend!

    but felipe: remember your own rule: One UI design rule to rule them all => Simplify!!!

    some of the pages in the illustrator looks really bloated with buttons, looks a little bit scary from an end-user that only understands how to use word...
    we have our own silverstripe version that blocks like 50% of all unused stuff from final clients and believe me that they even enjoy having only 2-3 buttons to press :)

    we are thrilled by the upcoming version by the way. i know it will be awesome. i just want to be in september!! (no idea if september will be the date, but i think we will be close enough...)

  • alex li
    13/03/2011 10:24pm (3 years ago)

    Simplify is actually very key for most web-applications and CMS (CMF).
    Cannot wait see the new user interface of SS.
    Bet it will be a new milestone for both developers and designers.

  • tomg
    16/03/2011 2:32pm (3 years ago)

    Happy days. The new UI looks amazing, I've always been an evangelist for SilverStripe and I can imagine these new changes will see a lot more people taking notice and hopefully adopting it as the cms of choice.

  • Darren-Lee
    09/04/2011 8:04pm (3 years ago)

    SS3.0 looks like it's going to be a winner! Can't wait. The interface looks incredible, but I'm not sure that it comes across more user-friendly though to the non-technical web editor. It actually looks more advanced - like the interface will have a lot more going on and will therefore be more intimidating for the new-comer. Just my opinion from my first impressions of the images, but I hope I'm very wrong about that.

  • Mom Bunheng
    21/06/2011 10:21am (3 years ago)

    Is it a new version still in open source? Or we have to buy it?

  • Aram Balakjian
    21/06/2011 10:28am (3 years ago)

    It will be as open-source as they come :)

    Given the success of SilverStripe as an open-source project, I can't imagine it ever going back to being a paid for product.

    Aram

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