What is the WordPress dashboard for?

Right now, the WordPress dashboard is my least used and most visited page in the admin. I don’t know the history of why it was made and the decisions about it along the way. It seems like the why might be “because we needed a place for users to go when they logged in” and expanded from there.

From there, WordPress adopted a widget system that was super popular in operating systems. If you have paid attention, very few of these widget systems were ever successful and most received the same amount of attention as the ones in the dashboard. Very little.

I don’t want to beat of the dashboard or anyone who worked on it. It has done it’s job very well. Heck, it’s done it so well that every other CMS feels the need to have one. That said, I’d like to take a step back and ask one of my favorite questions:

What problem is the Dashboard solving?

¯_(ツ)_/¯

I honestly have no idea what the original problem was, but I’ll take a stab at listing the problems it might be solving.

Problems it might be attempting to solve

  • User needs a place to go after logging in
  • User needs a place to get a holistic view of the happenings on their site
  • New user doesn’t know what to do after logging in (Welcome widget)
  • New user doesn’t know how to change or customize a theme (Welcome widget)
  • Active user doesn’t have a grasp of how many posts, pages, and comments they have (At a glance)
  • User needs a way to post REALLY QUICKLY (Quick Draft)
  • User is interested in WordPress News, but only wants to see the latest article’s headlines from within WordPress (WordPress News)
  • Plugins want a place to show off their stuff

What problem should the Dashboard be solving?

¯_(´ω`)_/¯

I don’t know the answer to this either. The above problems are still valid. Even the news one I guess maybe. This is where I’m hoping a discussion will help clarify the primary purpose of the dashboard as well as some secondary purposes.

Are widgets the right way to go?

Widgets are an interesting metaphor, but I have serious doubts about them and the WordPress implementation of them. They have to be flexible at every width. They have to be in a multi column format on larger screens (bad). Both of these things mean the design of them and the dashboard suffer.

I still suspect widgets might be the way to go because of how ingrained they are, but I do believe the implementation should change. Whether I like them or not, we have them now and many people and plugin authors really like them. They also can add value and happiness to users of all types.

What if we only had a single column of widgets off to the side (maybe even off screen)? What if we pulled the most common and powerful parts of the dashboard into a main column. Sections like at a glance and stats could shine there. New users would get the benefit of a main column that could introduce them to their site one step at a time instead of something trapped in the space of a widget.

Not all widgets

One of the biggest assumptions we make is that all users want to see all of the widgets right from the start. That’s just about the exact opposite of other successful widgety platforms. Others tend to start with one to three and then encourage the user to add more via a plus button or a widget settings panel or whatever. We bury the thing in Screen Options. At the very least, if we keep the widgets around, this needs to change.

By starting with so many, we create a kind of dashboard blindness. In other words, we’re showing so much interface and information, that’s just easier to ignore it altogether.

What if we started with just the few widgets that are the most useful and designed a more intuitive way to add or remove them? What if adding widgets to the dashboard was part of onboarding?

4 thoughts on “What is the WordPress dashboard for?”

  1. Great post. IMO Screen Options is the source of a lot of frustration administering WordPress, both on the dashboard and other places. When we encounter a tough UX problem, it’s too easy to dump the option in Screen Options. I like the idea of a plus button to fill out the dashboard versus dumping everything and going from there.

    This is a good starting point for a broader dashboard conversation, that I really hope happens 🙂

  2. If I remember correctly, pre 2.7, you’d go straight to “Write” screen (when we had a horizontal admin navigation at the top, with “Write”, “Design”, etc). They were much simpler times, and the focus of the admin was for you to write blog posts – back when it was all about blogs, not sites. No idea what the future of the Dashboard might be, but would be interesting to explore what we could do with it – I think it’s a prime place for data visualization, but it has to be done well (the at a glance stuff is so not interesting right now).

  3. I know I’m late in reading/commenting this post, but I agree. It would be useful to have an actual WordPress dashboard with useful information and functions instead of what currently exists.

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