Admin panel. What does the future hold?

Admin panel. What does the future hold?

Ryan has been involved with dashboard styling for a while now. In this post he reflects on two different directions for the future of wp-admin; a premium, paid one and a brand-new plugin which might indicate the direction that core is taking.

I received an interesting email recently from Tung Do, a man who has been a well respected member of the WordPress community for quite some time. He offered me the opportunity to test his new plugin DP Dashboard  (you can download the plugin yourself by becoming a member of DevPress for US$40 per year). Since reviewing Tung’s plugin, a new plugin called MP6 has been announced by WordPress leader Matt Mullenweg. MP6 is a development plugin intended as a test-bed for a potential new core redesign.

DP Dashboard plugin

On installing the DP Dashboard plugin, I was immediately struck by a stunning change to my admin panel. My initial impressions ranged from “oh that’s weird” to “ohhh, shiny, I like that!”.

WordPress dashboard

The good

The regular greys and blues with small fonts have been replaced with a much whiter, larger, simpler look. I am no UI or design expert, but I know what I like, and I quite like the visual look Tung has achieved. It reminds me a lot of the latest WordPress default themes which have proven to be very popular.

Impressions of others

I have shown the dashboard to others in my office and they all responded with nice comments about the design; words like “clean”, “clear” and “uncluttered” were muttered on seeing it for the first time. I’m writing this post within the WP Realm admin panel right now, and am missing the bolder, brighter design provided by the DP Dashboard plugin.

User interface

Something I found particularly pleasant about this admin theme, is that I didn’t need to relearn anything. It uses exactly the same skeletal setup as WordPress core. Everything is where you expect it to be and there are no unpleasant surprises. I have tried other dashboard plugins over the years, usually becoming disoriented while attempting to find my way around as they had moved things to new locations. Tung’s plugin however, is very easy to switch to and is mostly just a visual styling change with no functional changes.

Logo

There is a prominent DevPress logo in the top left hand corner of the admin panel. It looks great, but is probably not appropriate for most sites. You can easily change this to another logo of your choice by following the instructions in the plugins’ readme.txt file.

The bad

When I first tested this plugin, it had a lot of bugs. Some of them were show stoppers, which made it quite infuriating to use. However, on sending through a draft of this blog post to Tung, he promptly went through and fixed most of them! Since that update, the plugin has been very pleasurable to use.

Icons

The icons used in DP Admin are the same as those used in the regular WordPress admin panel. These seem out of place in the brighter, bolder DP Dashboard. Some flatter custom icons, perhaps similar in concept to those discussed in WordPress Trac and included in WordPress trunk recently would be more suitable.

Upgrades

Upgrades of DP Admin are currently a pain point, as it not only lacks an auto-update functionality, but also the instructions for changing logos involves hacking the plugin’s core files, which causes breakages during the upgrade process. Thankfully, Tung has confirmed that he will iron out this problem for one of the upcoming releases and logos will not need to be updated each time.

MP6 admin plugin

The MP6 plugin is brand new and was released after I began writing this post. It is intended as a test bed rather than as a usable plugin, so a direct comparison between the two is not fair.

MP6 WordPress dashboard

My first impressions of the MP6 plugin are not as favourable as for DP Admin, but that is to be expected since it is a brand new project. It feels similar to the existing admin design which I’ve always liked, but the dark sidebar feels a little too abrupt. DP Dashboard uses a much larger font sizing and a very clean white design, whereas MP6 (currently) is darker than the existing design and has a similar font sizing.

The problem with WordPress admin themes

I have a first hand experience of the pains of writing themes for the WordPress admin panel; I was the first to publish an admin theme after the total dashboard redesign of WordPress 2.5. Fast forward to WordPress 2.7 and the original design was completely thrown out the door again, rendering my admin theme useless and in need of a complete rewrite. This isn’t a criticism of WordPress, since refinement of the admin panel is necessary. However it does illustrate the problems of using an admin plugin, rather than relying on the core styling. If the developer does not maintain the plugin through major releases, then its design will be lost. The beauty of using the MP6 plugin is that it may eventually end up in WordPress core, so that may not be a problem. The downside of MP6 is that since it is a test-bed, there is a very likely chance of major bugs being present.

Tung has guaranteed that his plugin will be upgraded through major releases in the forseeable future, and since DP Dashboard plugin is a paid service, Tung will have a major (monetary) reason to justify spending a lot of time maintaining updates for future releases. So hopefully this will not be a problem for the DP Dashboard plugin.

Conclusion

I’ve been running DP Dashboard on all of my local and live WordPress installations for the past few weeks. It’s not necessarily any more practical than the current admin theme, but it is more pleasant on the eyes. I’m really enjoying the change of scenery and I recommend you try it out too. I’ve only tested MP6 locally, and so far don’t see any benefits over the existing admin design, but I’m sure that will change very soon as development is ramped up.

What do you think?

If you try out either of these plugin yourself, please leave a comment here about your experience. I’d love to hear opinions from others on these (or other) admin panel plugins or the direction you think WordPress core should take the admin design in.

Comments

  1. says

    Nice reviews, Ryan. DP Dashboard seems promising, but the lack of auto-upgrades and the need to modify the plugin’s core files is currently a showstopper for me. I’ll keep it on my radar in case the situation change :-)

  2. says

    As someone who builds many sites for non-teccie users, I feel that MP6 has a very big advantage over DP: it uses higher contrast colours to delineate different parts of the interface. DP looks cool & minimal, but everything is white or pale grey, nothing really stands out. Clear visual difference between the left-hand menu, the main content area, and sub-areas within it, is crucial for users who are not sure where they are supposed to be looking for something. DP looks like a great admin theme for confident users, while MP6 looks like it has much higher real-world usability.

  3. says

    I’ve been following DP Dashboard with interest — for straight-up blogs the current Dashboard is just too cluttered, but until now the $40 price-tag has put me off when — as you point out — that’ll be another $40 for the new version next year when a new WP version breaks the whole thing.

    I’ve just installed MP6 and I’m a big fan already. WordPress is at its best when it gets out the way and just works. Anything that helps that is a good thing in my book :)

  4. Luke says

    Just looking at the screenshots, I think DP looks like a step back in time, while MP6 looks something like a sideways step. Clearly though, DP has modern typography and under the hood must sport more. Very glad to hear, though, that major core developments are on the table.

  5. says

    I’m actually a big fan of the MP6 approach with the darker sidebar and all. We’ve been working on an admin solution – where a different look and feel is part of the bigger solution – where we’ve opted for that approach as well.

  6. says

    Personally not a fan of flat design when it comes to complex interfaces. I understand it’s trendy, but what may work for myspace (example: ), I personally don’t feel will work for WP. Apart from that, I like the added contrast / different color scheme.

      • says

        I really don’t like the DevPress Admin plugin. The layout is nice, but I really don’t like the fonts and colour scheme. Overall, it looks a little amateurish to me. I do love the concept of dashboard plugins, but I don’t feel that the DP plugin goes far enough to really transform WP.

        I like where MP6 is going so far. I would love for a total transformation of the dashboard, and also the ability to make theming and customizing it easier.

    • says

      Agree. 100%. The trendy flat style is great for reading, not interaction. Somehow DP Dashboard first release turned out that way. Too late now, but the new admin theme I’m working on is much better!

  7. Hassan says

    I have tried the DP Dashboard plugin, and I like how it looks. It’s refreshing, very clean and bold. Best part is that’s the base theme, he is working on implementing a way to add skins or child themes to it, so there would be multiple designs to choose from, or build my own. That’s what I’m waiting for :)

  8. says

    Anyone interested in admin themes should follow my Twitter feed @devpress. I’ve been posting previews of the next release. It’ll include custom theme capability and a new admin theme (drastically different from DP Dashboard’s default theme and MP6).

    I’ve played with MP6 and can’t help but smile =). It’s almost exactly like DP Dashboard’s rough draft! I prefer the overall feel/vibe of MP6 over the default admin look. However, the light on dark sidebar approach is… awkward, which is why I trashed that rough draft. I personally don’t like switching from light on dark to dark on light browsing on the same page. The light on dark switch works when you have only a few items to distinguish. Light on dark for the entire left admin menu, which typically has more than 10 items, is overkill for the eyes.

    What I really like about MP6 though is the removal of page title icons. I debated internally about page title icons when creating DP Dashboard first version, but decided to keep them temporarily.

    • says

      Wow, some of those redesigns are quite drastic/impressive. If hope you don’t end up with an upgrade nightmare on your hands if they drastically change the admin panel HTML setup.

      • says

        That’s why I think $40 is reasonable considering how much maintenance is involved in admin themes. One theme is already time consuming, but I plan on providing several starter themes for people to learn from.

        The only headache they can throw at me is switching from tables to lists for data display (posts listing for example), which is something I actually hope they’d do. Using fixed tables to force mobile view compatibility for dynamic data is just obnoxious.

  9. says

    I think admin is evolving quite well at the moment with the recent revisions in 3.5 (new media manager) and some of the planned advancements for 3.6. The one big thing that I want to see is ‘custom admin url’ during setup or in the admin panel to specify a custom admin url like is featured in Magento.

  10. says

    Hey Ryan, I know I’m late to the party here, but I have been thinking a lot about this lately. I like both MP6 and the DP admin, and I think they are a good start. However, they are basically just new skins on the old admin. I personally think the admin needs more than a skin, it needs a major overhaul.

    There are problems with the UI that new colors and fonts can’t fix. The admin needs to be simplified in a major way in order to accomodate new users, and make things more friendly.

    Instead of writing a super long comment, I wrote a post about it. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on my concept design: http://www.presscoders.com/2013/05/re-thinking-the-wordpress-admin-a-new-concept-dashboard-design/

  11. says

    it’s all about how its works, not how its looks. i think the challenge is to made admin panel that even non WordPress user can use it easily.

    • says

      That’s an awesome looking admin redesign Alex.

      Since I wrote this article, the MP6 design has grown on me. It’s also a lot more polished, and so I’ve been using that on most of my sites instead of the DP Dashboard plugin.

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