Drupal.org personas

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Mary the Manager


She's a decision maker, either searching for things to hand to her tech people, or pointed to Drupal by her techie/consultant/etc). She needs to see that Drupal is robust, has the features she thinks that the project needs, and walk away feeling good about the Drupal community/core.


I'm the CEO of a small nonprofit organization [or owner of a small business, manager of an IT department...]. My existing web site [or intranet] needs a makeover, and my tech-folks tell me that we really should use a Content Management System. They've said they're going to use Drupal, and I want to take a look at it before giving them the thumbs up.

Her drupal.org experience:

Evaluating Drupal

  • Hello, here's the Drupal site.
  • What is it? Does it sound like what my staff says we need? ('What is Drupal?' pages and text catch my interest. I don't want lots of detail here, but it says Drupal is used to build dynamic content-driven sites, and lots of successful web sites use it. That sounds good.)
  • What are some other sites built with it? Do I like them? Are they successful? ('Featured site' would be great, along with an archive of other drupal-based sites. Brief blurbs from the people who run those sites about how Drupal helped and what capabilities they're making use of would be great. No more than a paragraph or two -- I'm skimming!)
  • Will it be hard to use? Will it cause more problems for us than it solves? (I take a quick look at the handbook and skim over it; I don't really know much about what I'm reading, but I want to get a feel for Drupal and what it's like. What I really want to see is a few simple-looking pictures of the screens where I'll post news announcements to the site.)
  • Hmmm. There's a list of news articles, too. Announcements, tutorials, stuff like that. Looks interesting, but I don't have time.
  • What other features does it have? (Does it do X, and Y, and Z? The feature list is important to me! I want to make sure that it supports the thing I just read about, too.)
  • I still have some questions. I'll look into the discussion forums and ask some people about it.


Mary is the decision maker so we need to give her all the material she needs to make the right decision. She wants to see our marketing campaign but is intelligent enough to know there are always weaknesses; so we need to give her clear and honest facts. What can be done with Drupal, how fast and at what cost? What can't Drupal do? Why use Drupal and not different CMS? It's free, so what's the catch? She's interested in what her customers see, but she also needs to know how easily she and her staff can use the system. She may need to hire developers and designers to help with building the site so she needs to know where she can find them. Most of all, she wants to know all this as fast as possible.

Tim the Tool-User


He's a blogger/community-organizer/small-business-owner, who wants to set up a site but needs something turnkey. If his needs are simple, he may be perfectly happy with core and a module or two -- he needs to look at some simple recipes, or be directed to more focused distros like CivicSpace.


I'm a father of three who likes photography and sports. I read soccer message boards a lot, and for a little while I posted pictures of the family to a Blogger account for our relatives to see. I'm part of the Parent-Teacher association for my kids' school, and I think a web site would help us get better organized. I did some searching on Google and heard about Drupal -- then I realized that one of the sites I visit occasionally runs on it too. I need to know if Drupal's for me, and then figure out how to use it.

His drupal.org experience

Evaluating Drupal

  • I want to maintain a calendar for the group, and post summaries of each meeting for the people who didn't make it. We need a message board, too, so we can discuss important stuff between monthly meetings. (I'm looking for general task-oriented feature lists. The details aren't too important right now, but I don't want to go barking up the wrong tree. If I see something that would be handy but I hadn't thought of, that'd be exciting.)
  • How would I go about setting up Drupal? Will it be hard for me to use? (There's a 'handbook' on administering a Drupal site. It has a section on setting up your Drupal site -- I'll look through some of the articles. If I'm in the mood, I'll even visit a few sites that use Drupal.)
  • I have a couple of questions about it. Can I ask other Drupal users? (I visit the forums and read a few similar questions. I post one of my own.)
  • I'll download it and give it a try. On this page, it says there's a "core" and a bunch of other stuff. What's that about? (I read the explanation of how Core and Modules and Themes work together, and decide to download CivicSpace. It sounds like something that's right up my alley.)

Initial experience

  • I've followed all the instructions, and I think I did everything right. It says something about Permissions to Lock Tables, though! (I visit the forums and post 'HELP!'. Someone points me to the Frequently Asked Questions, and it explains that I need to ask my hosting provider to give me access to something.)
  • Okay. It looks like it's working, but what do I do with it now? I need to figure out how to set up my site to do what I want. (There's a nice 'setting up your first Drupal site' section in the handbook, right on the first page. I'll read it. It doesn't talk about installing Drupal, but helps me figure out how I want to structure my site, and tells me how to configure Drupal's core features to best accomplish that.)

Ongoing experience

  • People keep asking me for email notifications of new events on the site. How do I do that? (I visit the forums, and ask around. Someone points me to the 'modules' section. Cool! I download a module called 'email-stuff' and install it.)
  • Things seem to be working OK, but if someone subscribes to two sections at once, it generates an error! That's no good. What do I do? (I hit the forums and post in the 'support' section. Someone says, 'that sounds like it's a bug in the module,' and gives me the URL for http://email-stuff.drupal.org. I post a 'bug report' there. The author says that it's been fixed in the latest version, but it hasn't been released yet. I can put up with it for a week or two.)


Tim does not know how to program, and doesn't have much time to learn. He can't afford to hire anyone either, so either this is reasonably easy or it doesn't get done. Before starting he wants to know that he can do this. Once that decision has been made, he needs instructions on how to get it set up. How does he choose a web host? How does he install the thing? How does he use it's basic features. Then he wants to customise it, choose a different theme and perhaps look at installing some modules. From time to time something won't be clear to him and he'll go looking for help. He is unlikely to contribute much, because he feels he doesn't know enough to help -- but he may be willing if we can show him how and make it a natural process.

Wendy the Webmaster


She's a site-builder who knows some PHP (or is willing to learn) and wants to assemble pieces to build a custom site for a client, boss, or her own use. She wants to learn about best practices for organizing her site with Drupal, how to mix and match modules effectively, and probably also needs information about designing themes; she may be implementing a design handed to her by a graphic artist or client.


I've used a few CMSes before and have come to Drupal because I've found limitations in the others I've tried. I'm willing to do research in order to customise the system and read up on modules, but I only know how to cut and paste code that's presented to me and maybe modify it a bit, and I can't evaluate whether it's good or not. I'll be learning drupal at the same time as brushing up on or starting php and the more advanced bits of XHTML/CSS/Javascript. I'm going to have to set something up pretty fast, and my manager/users are demanding loads of features

Her drupal.org experience:


  • I want to check out the backend, so I'll go on opensourcecms.com to check it out. Where's tagging?? Why can't I create content from the admin menu?
  • modules, whoah, lots of modules, that's good. OK let's see if I can find a drop-down menu, oh there's more than one, and what's JStools? nice-menu's version 4.7, I wonder I can just use that in 5.1?

Initial experiences

  • OK installing was pretty easy, but it looks like I need to decide where my files directory goes. It's /files as default, but a handbook page said use /sites/all/files or sites/mysite.com/files or I should put it outside the webroot if I want to use private downloads, hmm, I'll use /files for now and worry about it later.
  • I can't add images to posts with an upload? Why's that in a module? A load of forum posts mention cck, imagefield, and imagecache make nice module thumbnails, but that's three modules just to upload an image? What's the difference between that and image module, and why's there even more modules (image attach) to add images into articles? I guess I'll install all of them and pick the best one.

Ongoing experiences

  • I wanted to change some text in the forum module and hacked core a couple of times due to suggestions in the forums, managed to only white-screen my site once but fortunately I saved a copy of the original file, but now there's a security update and I'm having to redo the changes all over again.
  • I should really find out how to do it properly, but when I asked how someone said "hook_form_alter" and make a custom module and I dunno what a hook is. And another module just to change a few lines and hide a bit of the form? Someone said if I install too many modules my site will go slow. I looked on w3schools but they don't mention hooks on there, and it doesn't seem the same as an if else statement or an array and I can barely do those yet!


Wendy is willing to invest some time in learning, but there are limits to how much time she has. She will try out different modules (though she is not a developer), learn how to theme (though she is not really a designer) and experiment a lot. She probably won't contribute back patches, but can help review them with a little instruction. She can also help out with support and documentation.

Dan the Developer

Profile: He is a code-monkey, or wants to be one, and is interested in using Drupal as a framework or creating his own custom tools. He wants to find out about Drupal's APIs, get help from other developers, work with the Git repository, and use support/bug tracking/etc tools.

* I've heard of Drupal, but I want to figure out how it works. (I hit the main web site and read the 'What is Drupal?' link. There's a section on how drupal organizes information, which is nice, but I want more. I find the link to 'Drupal for Developers' site, and go there. Perfect!)
* I want to make a genaeology web site that's got wiki-style linking features. Is there something that does that already? (I look through the existing modules and projects under development. I search the message boards -- there's a discussion about it, but it looks like nothing came of it.)
* If I roll my own, I want to figure out how Drupal works. (I visit the 'introduction to drupal core' section of the dev handbook. it has some nice flowcharts that explain how drupal works at a high level, and points me to documentation on some of the important APIs like nodeapi, the theming system, and the file api.)
* Sounds like it's worth a shot. I'm going to download a copy and write a module to test the waters. (I download a copy of core from the 'downloads' section, and read the 'writing your first module' handbook section.)



Danielle the Designer


Danielle is a Photoshop wizard and can write semantic XHTML blind-folded. She wants to know how she can make Drupal bend to her wishes and become beautiful.


I've been designing templates for various CMSystems, I understand how those websites are modular and I design accordingly: not creating whole pages but styling for flexible chunks of content or functionality.

Her drupal.org experience


  • As a first experiment let's try and build my own portfolio thingie in drupal.
  • If we're going to use drupal for our projects at work, I'll have to know how this theming works. How much can I do with just tweaking the CSS? Looks like theming involves writing PHP, yikes!
  • the drupal website is huge and doesn't feel very organised, everything looks the same, I don't really know where to start but looks like there is a lot of info about everything.

Initial Experience

hmmm, very texty this drupal. I'll have to look at the themes. So there's always this header/footer/sidebars/content layout or can this be changed? I can add images as content but they are hard to combine within other layout elements. I found the downloadable themes but I don't like any of them! Zen or Box-grey seem like decent starting points, but I want both sidebars to the right of the content!

Ongoing experience

somehow I found out about Views and Panels module. Views is a beast but I get it now, it's like smart playlists in itunes, that's handy. Panels is nice, but damn, that's a lot of wrapping divs! I've looked into theming, page.tpl.php doesn't look very scary so I did get the left sidebar to the right as well, just some reordering within page.tpl.php did the trick. I read about "intercepting theme functions' but that really looks like writing my own PHP, so no thank you. Image handling is still crappy, none of the contributed gallery-like modules do what I want. I'll have to talk with one of our developers to really get a grip on where my job ends and his' starts if we want to design complex sites with drupal.


Danielle knows Photoshop; she knows CSS; she knows XHTML; she may even know Flash; but she doesn't know PHP and hopes she doesn't need to. If she ever has to deal with it, she needs lots of guidance. She may use another theme as a starting point, but basically she wants to start from scratch and needs to know how. When she visits Drupal.org she may not expect the most gorgeous theme, but she does expect something that is easy to read, well laid out, and contains imagery where it would help. She also needs to be shown that it is possible to design great sites with Drupal.. she wants to know the possibilities. She also knows she has the skills to contribute back to the project, but will be easily put off. She knows creating a new theme for Drupal will take more time to get right than other systems, so may be reluctant to put in the time needed straight away. She can help in other ways too, but it might not be obvious how. She will be put off by Git and anything else that looks like it might be too techy. She needs to be inspired and know her efforts will be appreciated and important to the community.

Sally the System Adminstrator

Profile: Sally is a Unix geek responsible for maintaining the servers for a high-profile website that's decided to go with Drupal. She wants to know the answers to questions like, "How does Drupal scale? What are the performance gotchas? Permissions? E_ALL? Safe mode? MySQL? Other DB systems? Clustering?"

Self-description: // TODO




Ellen the Evaluator

Profile:Ellen is technical assistant to the Vice President of Marketing. She is responsible for validating effective use of technology for her organizations marketing needs. Her companies IT department is heavily invested in the .NET platform and the Java platform, but she wants a cheaper faster better and needs to know if she can introduce a new platform that would better meet the marketing departments needs.

Self-description: //TODO


Ellen struggled to find the relevant information she needed to make her decision. She sees a lot of value and evidence of a very strong community but based on here initial struggles would not be willing to show this site to her boss.

Ellen has found the collection of features that her marketing team needs to make a recommendations, but there's so many choices and no indication of quality. She knows her company has a large budget, so she needs to hire a consulting firm to help execute quickly and come up to speed. She would likes open source because it avoids expensive lock-ins and maintenance fees, but wishes she did not have to go through a firm to get the information she needs in a digestible format. She finds the documentation is not consistent and is lacking in certain areas. She can not routinely find the information she needs on the site as questions are relayed to her.


These personas look good.

solipsist's picture

These personas look good. The only thing I might miss is more bullet lists since they help bring out key points about each persona.

Since you refered to IA in the developer list email, here's a short text about how we (Webbredaktören) work with usability. We're usually two people with backgrounds in HCI, cognitive science and/or human factors who do the usability study work.

As with all user-oriented design it's important to take a top-down approach, rather than bottom-up as developers tend to do a lot.

We've had success working with a methodology called Effect Control which focuses on the desired effects rather than how the system is implemented. What you first look at is the primary effect you want to achieve, i.e. Why are we redesigning Drupal.org? The answer might be: to better serve our community. But what does that mean? Thinking about it for a bit, we might come up with something like: "enable our community members to find the information they seek faster than they do today". That goal doesn't really encompass all the needs so it needs to be rewritten. It's important to keep the overarching goal simple, yet not too tangible but keep it realistic. We're getting tangible as we fork out.

Next level consists of Goal Groups. The motto goes like: "with no one using the system there won't be any effect anyway so the users, grouped based on their desired effects, are our means of achieving the overarching goal". Goal Groups consist of users who share the same use goals, i.e. they want the same effects. Goal Groups can be comprised of many different personas since personas may share the same use goals. Goals Groups are groups of the users that usability folks call "stakeholders".

Use goals should be relatively high level since they are NOT use cases! Instead, a use goal can be broken down into use cases. For example, the Goal Group "Committers" might consist of personas Themer and Developer. Committers want to easily track issues for their projects. That's a use goal and it can then be broken down into the use cases such as "submits an issue", "posts follow-up to issue", "posts patch" et c.

We're not at the use case level in this particular case as most of the functionality at Drupal.org is mostly done but if you build something from scratch, this is what you'd do. In this case, creating a set of Goal Groups and defining Use Goals should bring a lot of clarity into what we want to achieve. Another great thing about working top-down is what we can later compare the final result with the goals and determine how well it matched what we set out to achieve. To stay on course it's always important to weigh what you do against the overarching goal and the particular Use Goal you're setting out to fulfill.

Jakob Persson
Webbredaktören - www.webbredaktoren.se

Wow, this is great feedback!

webchick's picture

You're right... we might be focusing on the wrong problem set... it's very useful to get broad overview stuff when planning out large-scale changes like this. You caught me with my 'developer' hat, trying to bottom-up the problem. ;)

This is probably asking a lot, but do you have any kind of sample documents you could supply that illustrate more of what you're talking about, and/or some helpful links that we could take a look at that talk about this method?

Goals for the Drupal.org re-design

Amazon's picture

1) http://buytaert.net/drupal-org-wishlist
2) Raise money to fund the Drupal project infrastructure

That's a good start. If your firm does this professionally, then I encourage you to focus on one part of the plan that's going to be submitted to the Drupal association for approval and funding. Audience analysis seems like a good place to start.

Webchick has done a good job identify User Persona's. They are inline with over 20 interviews that I conducted with users of Drupal.


To seek, to strive, to find, and not to yield

New Drupal career! Drupal profile builders.
Try pre-configured and updatable profiles on CivicSpaceOnDemand

We'll post something soon

solipsist's picture

Sure. We'll post something as soon as we can. We have case samples where we've been using Effect Control.

The method is something we have adopted from Swedish usability company inUse and a book written by one of their usability architects. Hopefully it will be available in English soon, not that the book is much of a book anyway, it's rather thin and not very meaty though it serves as an introduction.

Googling a bit, I found another brief introduction on the topic:

What's actually great about this method is that it puts the focus where it belongs: on use and on effects. It allows you to talk about an application in business terms and in a way that your client understands while effectively addressing the actual effect and doing so from from initial idea to implementation. It's also a good to measure how well an application or website lives up to its expectations since you can measure effect using interaction design and usability studies. After all, it's the users that enable the effect so it's to them you gotta got to go see what works and what doesn't. Further, fearing I might sound too much of a salesman on acid sugaring a deal too much, it's even designed with agile development methods in mind... :)

I wouldn't say it's a panacea, that would be stupid :), but it certainly puts a lot of common sense where it belongs. Sometimes, common sense needs to be sold as a method for people to listen. But as with all methods, you gotta pick the raisins from the cake. Trust your own judgment.

Jakob Persson
Webbredaktören - www.webbredaktoren.se

About the top-bottom proccess

eriksencosta-gdo's picture

I agree with Jakob. What I am seeing here at redesign group is a lot of research to improve the Drupal.org websites but most of time with a bottom-up perspective.

We have a great amount of data about visitors, the survey presented by Dries, we need to take advantage of this and use it to achieve the Drupal.org's users desires.

First we need to define our goal, we will redesign all Drupal.org websites? We really now how the data is structured? It's really important to define clearly. The method adopted by Jakob seems very close to the needs of a Drupal.org redesign.

There are other books and resources that can help:
Don't make me think
Information Architecture for the World Wide Web
Jakob Nilsen's site

This is great information.

dcmistry's picture

This is great information. Thank you for everyone who helped with this gigantic effort.

Also, I was reading a post from Leisa R. http://www.disambiguity.com/insiders-and-outsiders/ that talks about the overlap between the different personas (listed above) and they being true are not mutually exclusive. She takes a step further and talks in terms of insiders and outsiders.

I am curious to understand where do we stand in terms of D.O. personas as of now? Have we thought about them in terms of primary and secondary personas? More importantly, where do we stand in terms of priority for this?

Dharmesh Mistry
UX Researcher | Acquia,Inc.