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Content Management Systems

The term Content Management System (or CMS) can apply to a number of software systems across many industries.  Examples include digital asset management, consumer product technical documentation, industrial design specifications, and many more.

We’ll focus on a slice of the CMS world known as Web Content Management (WCM) or Web Content Management Systems (WCMS).  These software systems are designed to allow web pages to be created, reviewed, edited, and eventually published to a live website.  Website CMS systems typically include modules that help manage digital assets like media and image files, and may also support a publishing workflow that includes multiple levels of content creation and review by editors, writers, medical review staff, etc. They also help manage website HTML templates, CSS stylesheets, images and navigation pathways to (hopefully) minimize duplicated efforts or unnecessary manual labor when web pages are added or moved.  A website CMS may also assist in translating the website into multiple languages, providing a personalized browsing experience for customers, integrating email communications, or offering application-like functionality.

A CMS that powers a website exerts two major effects on usability.  The first is on the public website that the system publishes.  CMS systems vary widely in their flexibility when it comes to handling different navigation schemes, semantic HTML markup, Web Accessibility-friendly techniques, and more.  The second major place that CMS software influences usability is on the content contributor areas.  Again, CMS systems take many different approaches to providing the form fields that ultimately must capture new or revised website content.  With increased sophistication comes a more complex editing interface.

Most website CMS software is intended for highly-trained technical users that not only know the website’s subject matter, but are also familiar with web writing, HTML code, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), usability, information architecture, and Web Accessiblity.  For these professionals (similar to users of ERP systems), usability requirements will typically shift away from first time user success and learnability towards requirements like quick application performance, powerful editing tools, versioning and rollback features, and robust document and media file management.

Of course, mistakes by content contributors can be costly, embarrassing, or introduce the risk of litigation.  For these reasons, the best of both worlds is to purchase or create a CMS that is easy to use for writers and editors, and doesn’t hamper the public website user experience.  The key to arriving in this happy place is to talk to your users learn from them, and document this knowledge in personas, requirements, or other artifacts of a robust User Centered Design (UCD) process.