6 ways to make Drupal easier for non-technical admins

Over the years, I've created a list of ways to make Drupal easier for one of my target audiences: the non-technical admins and editors that run the day-to-day operations of a website. My list is getting huge, but the following six ideas are always reliable.

Fast Permissions Administration with CTools and Collapsed Fieldsets

The permissions page grows fast. I've seen this page with over 1,500 permissions and it is a painful experience. The Fast Permissions Administration module adds an AJAX search filter to the top of this page that makes navigation very easy. The “collapse modules on permissions page” option from the Administration Menu module works well with the FPA module by collapsing all the fieldsets by default. If you have the CTools module installed, you can also edit content permissions in an elegant popup form from the edit content types page.

Fast Permissions Administration with CTools and Collapsed Fieldsets

Panels with inline contextual links

Protest your inner desire to create custom page callbacks. There are many reasons to use Panels module, but here is my favorite: It directs your efforts towards using Blocks, Views, and Nodes – each of which have contextual admin links that show up on mouseover. This is a huge win for non-technical admins – they just point on the region they want to edit, and they are presented with a form. In Drupal 7, the contextual links show up in a friendly inline drop down menu. I think that Panels, and the Page Manager module, are nearly too complex for most non-techies, but the encouraged use of existing Drupal technologies to build your page callbacks, and take advantage of their contextual links, is well worth it.

Panels with inline contextual links

Hierarchical Select

The Hierarchical Select module hits a few birds with one stone. It gets rid of the challenging multiselect taxonomy textarea. Even better, it has a “dropbox” that lets users see all the taxonomy terms they've chosen so far. It also saves the click-by-click lineage of deep taxonomy terms. My favorite feature: It lets users create taxonomy terms on the fly at whatever level of depth they choose.

Hierarchical Select

Better Formats

Input Formats have confused just about every non-technical admin I have ever met. So I like to just get rid of them as much of possible. The Better Formats module does just that, plus offers a few settings to change the copy.

Better Formats

Rubik + Vertical Tabs

Rubik has reduced the Drupal learning curve of many non-technical admins. By reducing visual clutter and reorganizing the layout, Drupal becomes a much easier tool to use. My favorite is the node edit page, which looks sharp when combined with Vertical Tabs module (part of Drupal 7 core) and Hierarchical Select module. The tooltip field descriptions are a nice touch.

Rubik + Vertical Tabs

Admin Views (a submodule of Administration Menu module)

The Admin Views module replaces the Content and Users administration pages with Views that have clever Exposed Filters and Views Bulk Operations implementations. The default views are very handy – but if you want to step up your game, try adding user profile images and taxonomy terms to the resulting tables. Another trick is to make the results a grid rather than a table.

Admin Views

Great writeup. These are certainly nice to have things for trying to make Drupal less intimidating for day-to-day users/admins.

Can you please check the link for the last photo (nontech_views.png)?

The views admin module link points to the admin menu module, and the page manager link points to the ctools module. Otherwise, nice list. I hadn't seen the select field module before, a good addition indeed.

Why do you call the admin menu, admin views module, it's has nothing to do with views module, it's just admin menu period. You did that to other modules as well. You are confusing people all while your writing about not confusing lol.

Good points, Better Formats in particular is a great module for helping users forget about what format they're using. In the end however all the modules in the world can be thwarted by bad IA in the same fashion as a site with great information architecture and no modules can be fairly easy for a user to handle.

the non-technical admins and editors that run the day-to-day operations of a website

Quite a few of your suggestions suggest that there is something wrong with your "day to day operations" rather then your Drupal set-up.

Module-page? No-one but the site developer should access that page. Ever.
Permissions? Really? You let your editors or admins change permissions? This is part of building the site. If editors ever need to access this page, your developer has configured the site wrong :). Leaving this page accessible to admins or editors is not only a severe security problem, it can simply break your entire site beyond fixability.
Panels? You really let your editors create and edit panels? I know the alternatives are limited and often harder, but really, defining panels is part of the basic set-up of yoour site. Right next to "making and implementing the design" and "creating and defining the views and CCK". No editor or admin should ever have to access panels settings.

Other then that, great suggestions and a nice article. :)

This really eased up the whole site management thing as an Admin in Drupal. Thanks so much for this, these things are centainly a must have for people who are not yet proficient. My site runs so much more smoothly and better now after using these modules to manage them better. Awesome ;)

Really amazing article. You know, I've never considered myself as tech savvy so I know I have a lot to learn especially when it comes to programming or the technical aspects of Drupal. Also I know that I'm not alone when it comes to this because I'm sure a lot of people are having troubles with Drupal codes as well. So many people will definitely like this post of yours. My point is, thanks for your effort in making it much easier on our part. :)

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About the Author

Tony Rost, Chief Technology Officer

Tony believes that customers' technology problems can be solved with deep respect, sound data, strong process, and adventurous teams. He uses data-driven methods to improve all stages of the development lifecycle – from design, to beta, to final deployment. With numerous ties to the open-source community, Tony also works to solve client problems faster and more effectively with well-tested open-source solutions.

Several dozen products have shipped under his guidance over the past 14 years: collaborative internal sites at Nike, social networking integrations with Adidas, server-monitoring websites at Hewlett Packard, open source contributions to Drupal, entertainment sites such as The Emmys, community sites such as FearNET, and HTML5 apps for tablets and Smart TVs.