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Document Type Editor Redux

19 February 2015
Filed under: umbraco, pay it forward - by Douglas Robar

The first thing you do with any Umbraco site is make document types. The document type is where you define the data properties that your various web pages will need. Document Types are the foundation of your site and determine not only the data model but also the user interface your content editors will use.

Currently, creating a document type involves moving between many tabs, screens, and often different sections of the Umbraco back office interface. There's a lot of to-ing and fro-ing. A lot of context changes. It's cumbersome.

I travelled to the Umbraco HQ offices in Odense, Denmark for a one day workshop to reconsider how you make document types, define the content structure, add properties, make tabs and rearrange the order of properties on those tabs, select and customize data types for properties, set document type icons, and more.

I've learned a lot from teaching people how to use Umbraco well at official Certification Courses in addition to my own long-term use of Umbraco to build web sites. Here, I thought, was a place I could offer feedback and ideas for how to streamline the process for both new and experienced users alike. A way to pay it forward. I joined Jonas Boye, Carsten Fallesen, Jan Skovgaard and most of the HQ team at their cool new offices.

We spent the early part of the day sharing our pain points and frustrations with the current way document types and datatypes are created and configured. We cataloged these into wish list ideas using the tried-and-tested sticky note system (scribble a few words and stick the paper to the wall). We then grouped these into three major categories: Editor Experience, Workflow, and Out-of-Scope.

At the beginning of the morning I had hopes we might have some sort of prototype built by the end of the day. It quickly became apparent that wasn't reasonable. The most important thing we could do together was to spend our time imagining how the workflow could be improved, considering each step and use case and attempt to conceive a user interface that met all our desires.

Per had done some preliminary work on a rough prototype and that was a massive help to visualize how screens and panels might be designed. I'm extremely pleased to say that at the end of the day we had not only addressed all the Editor Experience and Workflow topics but along the way had also considered many of the items we initially thought might be out of scope! Everything you need to do to create, edit, organize, and customize document types (and data types) can be done from one place. No more context switching!

The hope is to rough out a prototype in the near future to confirm what made sense to us as we waved our hands at a projected image and said things like, "...and then you'll drag a field from the palette of datatypes onto any tab of your doctype..." and "'ll customize the datatype right from here, at the moment and place you need it..." actually work in practice. The final result will be a massive improvement to a vital part of the Umbraco 8 user interface later this year.

I want to thank Niels and Per and the entire HQ for making an open invitation to all Umbraco users to be part of the process. I was blessed to be there doing my part to make Umbraco even better. A focused time together in person allows magic to happen. It's also a ton of fun. If you ever have the opportunity to attend a workshop at the HQ you should definitely do it!

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