Drupal 6 had problems. While it was better than all the other previous versions, there were still fundamental problems with the user experience of the software. Usability testing and interviewing revealed people had trouble with even the most simple of tasks such as adding content to their website. It was our job to fix this, along with the other problems we knew Drupal had (and some we didn’t).

Design principles

To keep us on track throughout our initial six-week research period we determined some design principles to work to:

  1. Privilege the content creator
  2. Make the 80% delightful and the 20% achievable
  3. Smart defaults

The first of these was perhaps the most important from our perspective. Drupal is a community largely made up of developers committed to making the best, most scalable, sustainable open source content management system they can. The other side of this coin is that, by doing this, the community can be too focused on the technical delivery of Drupal rather than understanding the needs of the people who are using it every day. Our job was to understand and focus on these people.

Designing for community

Communicating our process, and our position within it, was vital for the Drupal community

Having been through the Drupal.org redesign process, we'd learnt some valuable lessons on how to design within an open source project. By clearly communicating our work, every step of the way, we ensured the community was across all of our thinking, research and design work.


The result of this work was a new administration theme for Drupal 7 called ‘Seven’. Seven boasts several enhancements designed to meet the user's needs: the overlay (to help users understand their sense of place), the toolbar (that sits above their site on every piece of content allowing easy access to their content with a single click), and shortcuts (to allow user configurable actions for repetitive tasks or more simple navigation).

initial sketches and ideas for the categorisation of the toolbar

Seven is also easy on the eye, designed with simpler typographic hierarchy, neutral colour palette and minimal visual noise. It’s designed to be noticed when you need it, not before.

The Seven interface for Drupal 7

Drupal 7 was launched in 2011 and currently powers some of the largest and most important websites in the world, from The White House and The Register, to The Economist and the upcoming CERN website. Boasting a more stable and extendable architecture than its predecessors, adding, curating and managing your content is now easier than ever.

Read more about Drupal 7 UX