Admin panel. What does the future hold?
Published March 9th, 2013 under Plugins
I originally authored this post on WP Realm, but I moved it back here after that website folded.
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!”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.