Is usability the most important selection criteria for a Web CMS?

August 3, 2009

When speaking to clients and CMS vendors we have been discussing what is the most important criteria that CMS buyers are looking for when selecting a CMS. A year ot two ago I would have said it was cost or how well a CMS met requirements. However in our most recent projects usability has been as important as cost or how well the CMS met a clients’ requirements. So why is it important and why does it feature at all in CMS selection projects now and what do we mean by CMS usability?.

What is CMS usability anyway?

Usability means making sure something works well, and that a person of average ability or experience can use it for its intended purpose without getting hopelessly frustrated. Therefore a usable CMS will :

  1. Be easy to learn
  2. Be easy to remember (particularly for occaisional users)
  3. Have a simple content management model (content types, ‘pages’) and follow a users’ mental model
  4. Require minimal training and be easy to explain to non web savvy editors.
  5. Be fast, resilient and error proof.
  6. Provide helpful error messages and tips when things go wrong. (wishful thinking!)

Clearly these things are not always covered in a statement of requirements, and have a significant impact on a successful CMS project.

Why is usability so important?

  1. Project failure is not an option (particularly now). If a CMS has been selected based on primarily technical or value for money criteria then there is a siginificant additional risk the project will fail!
  2. If  your team does not understand the CMS they will not use it.
  3. You will have to factor in additional hidden costs of training (of existing and new staff) and support. Your team will be inundated with support requests from users who will get stuck and then your team will spend time helping them.
  4. Devolved content management will not be possible, without significant additional investment.

What do you think? Does usability feature in your CMS selection? If not why not?

Useful posts on CMS usability:

  1. 11 usability principles for CMS products (Step Two Designs)
  2. The 5 hidden costs of running a CMS (Paul Boag)
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