How to Build a CMS User Interface You’ll Love to Use

How to Build a CMS User Interface You’ll Love to Use

Taylor Horak


A good CMS will help you deliver epic customer experiences. A great CMS will go one step further and deliver enjoyable user experiences to the editorial and marketing teams that use it every day.

Understandably, the issue of the CMS user experience (UX) is often sidelined in favor of front-end customer journeys. After all, there’s only a select few content creators that will be exposed to the back-end, right?

But here at Authentic, we know just how important a great CMS user interface is to help enable great customer experiences. And now that we have explained how our CMS development ethos is in fact a love letter to our clients, it’s high-time we highlight the importance of a loveable CMS user experience, too.

Why You Need to Love Your CMS User Interface

A well-designed CMS user experience reduces staff costs, training costs, and technology customization costs over time.

Furthermore, when a CMS back-end makes it easy to control content, marketers and content creators can go to work knowing that they have mastery over their content and its presentation. And that can only result in positive customer experiences in the long run.

When all the right ingredients go into CMS development process, the back-end doesn’t end up looking like the unfortunate by-product of a system that is only concerned with output. It also meets the internal needs and wants of editorial teams, marketers, and content creators of all kinds — allowing them to work together harmoniously.

On the flip side, a poorly cobbled together CMS user interface will manifest itself only as an obstacle to those same teams. A poor user experience kills productivity, limits speed, and makes content creation a drag — which is bad news if you’re looking to craft strong customer experiences and distribute amazing content.

How We Craft Valuable CMS User Experiences

To support ever-changing websites and maximize on ROI opportunities, the problem of the CMS UX needs to be addressed early and often in the CMS development process. Inefficient CMS design hinders content creation and editorial processes, limits the creativity of content creators, and creates heavy technical debt for the website.

Contrary to popular belief, these issues aren’t the inevitable drawbacks that come with a modern CMS — they’re actually totally avoidable design flaws.

It needs to be understood that the contributors working with the CMS on a daily basis are another user type that needs to be accounted for when solving for UX problems during an implementation and/or redesign.

Are you considering a new implementation or dealing with a back-end CMS UX that leaves you and your team willing to barter their first born rather than have to update content in the CMS? Lucky for you, we’ve included our four-step CMS development process that is optimized to nip these internal user experience issues in the bud.

1. The Discovery Phase

At Authentic, before we delve into any new CMS development project, we work hard to understand the existing pain points a client has with their content publishing process, and where their existing CMS fits into an overarching editorial or governance model.

During this discovery phase, we work with stakeholders to understand their governance model (or lack thereof). We can then uncover what they like, what they don’t like, and what has to be in place (for example, if the legal team needs to read something, or if different departments need restricted access to content).

2. Current State Assessment

Once we know what our client needs, we work to develop a picture of the current state of their editorial flow. That includes studying their existing CMS and speaking to editors and contributors to ascertain how content goes from an idea to an actuality, and how that process could be improved.

If we are doing a site redesign in conjunction with a CMS implementation, we will analyze the current state in tandem with design/UX — as we work to create a solution for the end user, we are simultaneously working to create a solution for the back-end contributor.

If, instead, we are just implementing a CMS, we still analyze the current state site to create a solution for a content model that meets the contributors needs.

3. Content Modeling

A modern website will inevitably have many face-lifts over time and the CMS backing it should be able to take that in stride. However, that’s only possible if a flexible and scalable content model is established early on.

Once business requirements are approved and a current state analysis is completed, we begin work on creating the content model — a flexible structure of content types that support the creation of rich experiences for the end user. We consider this to be a critical phase in our CMS development process.

If you aren’t familiar with what a content model is, think of it as the connected outer border pieces of a puzzle. Your content model should contain all the materials and various content that is necessary in order to successfully complete a project – or to successfully piece together a puzzle. Apart from being the frame to your CMS structure, your content model should also define each component and demonstrate how they fit together.

As the CMS takes shape, we work with contributors and stakeholders to identify content use cases, CMS folder structures, and define asset management for images, videos, pdfs, and so forth. Plus, solutions for integrations with third parties are created and functionality requirements for content types are also defined.

Governance models are also factored in — whether leveraging OOB features or custom development to manage publication scheduling or user restrictions, we work to meet the full needs of the client.

We then work exclusively with the marketing team to understand their needs around personalization, A/B testing, and analysis to ensure that the CMS is an integrated part of their content lifecycle and goals. The goal is to make life easy for contributors when it comes to managing the content they need to build a great user experience on the live site.

Ideally, any new content or functionality needs that arise can be handled by the contributors — and any development work that needs to happen can be easily planned and implemented within the editorial calendar.

Thus, if we content model correctly, we can future-proof the CMS — creating content types that allow for endless redesigns to content presentation, and supporting a contribution model that is effective and simple to manage (a COPE model - Create Once, Publish Everywhere).

4. Designing the CMS

Thanks to the first three steps of our CMS development process, the final step is arguably the most straightforward.

With the information and content models in place, our team works collaboratively with the client to build a CMS that delivers great user experiences both internally and externally.

As far as honing the back-end user experience goes, our team takes the information compiled in the discovery process & current state documentation into consideration when shaping the contribution model, and developing a back end UX that meets those needs.

The Outcome

Our case studies attest to the fact that the content management systems we build using this process are:

  • Easier to maintain
  • Have less technical debt
  • Scale easily
  • Support COPE (Create Once, Publish Everywhere) - or flexible content across channels.
  • Put the power back in the hands of content creators

Because we treat the CMS as a UX problem and integrate it into our recommended solution for clients, we are able to develop flexible and scalable content models that can grow with the website.

Throughout the four steps outlined above, we work with the client to ensure they understand and benefit from each tweak we implement. Finally, we provide extensive contributor training sessions and comprehensive training guides that make the new features and functions of the CMS plain and clear.

And, of course, we provide ongoing support to clients to help them make the most of their new CMS.

Fall in Love With Your CMS User Experience

Investing in a well-designed CMS user interface is a smart move. It reduces staff costs, training costs, and technology customization costs while empowering editorial and marketing teams with speed and back-end ease.

That’s why we ensure that our CMS development process produces platforms that deliver impeccable user experiences both internally and externally, each and every time.

Need a hand ironing out your CMS user experience? We’re here to help.