Let’s face it, almost no one likes their content management system (CMS). For the most part, it doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, what vendor you’ve chosen or how big your budgets are; if you have a serious business with a serious website, you have a CMS – and more likely than not, you (and most of the people that use it on a daily basis) hate it.
When John, our Head of Product Management, first came to me to talk about an overhaul of the Contentstack user experience, I couldn’t have predicted that it would be one of the most consequential moments in the journey of our company. “Why would we focus on that right now?” I initially challenged. “Almost every customer chooses us – at least in part – because of our user interface.”
It was true, Contentstack had bucked the prevailing trend of treating Headless CMS like a developer-first tool, where function mattered more than form and relatively little attention had been paid to the user experience. On the contrary, our firm belief was that developers and business users alike could and should benefit from this exciting new approach to content management. More than just equals, we viewed them as critical partners to each other and, keeping that in mind at all times, we had painstakingly designed Contentstack from the ground up to be appealing to hardcore developers and non-technical end users alike.
As John began to fill up the whiteboard, I realized this was much more than just a UI refresh. He was asking for a significant investment – financially and in terms of our engineering resources – and I knew that the entire company would have to get behind this. “What are we going to call this thing?” I asked John, who didn’t hesitate. “Venus. Like the Roman goddess of beauty and love. It will be the visual expression of the love and care we have for our customers. In fact, it will be the reason even a non-developer falls in love with a headless CMS.”
Ambitious? Yes. Cheesy? Perhaps a little. But, as it turns out, John was onto something big...
“This is Your Apple Moment”
Our first indication of just how big came when we shared Project Venus with one of the analyst firms we work with. After walking through a sneak preview of Venus, one of the all stars of the CMS industry (who once upon a time authored a Magic Quadrant for enterprise content management and now runs his own research company) looked up and said: “Do you realize how big this is going to be? This is your Apple moment.”
His statement took me right back to my first “Apple moment”, which happened during the early 2000s when I was a Product Manager for a popular Unix operating system and, at the time, we were locked in a passionate battle with Microsoft, whose Windows operating system owned the lions’ share of the business and end user markets, powering nearly every PC and laptop in sight.
Back then, our customers chose us because our operating system was technologically superior in almost every conceivable way. Better performance, better reliability, better scalability. IT departments the world over loved Unix! Rebooting a Unix computer? Forget it. The infamous “Blue Screen of Death” simply didn’t exist in our world. Even more, you could automate routine and otherwise complicated tasks using powerful scripting languages. Sure, the UI might have been a little uninspiring, but it was a geek’s dream come true – and I was a geek.
Microsoft’s customers, by contrast, often chose Microsoft because things were relatively easy and uncomplicated. There were no obnoxious command lines, you didn’t have to download open source drivers and unzip software packages into a very specific folder. Even a non-technical person could install something with a double-click and there was a whole ecosystem built around Microsoft Windows, with a wealth of applications and easy integrations.
You could skip reading the manual and, for the most part, navigate Windows without hassle and generally muddle through your daily tasks. As long as you didn’t divert from standard procedures and could live with the occasional, unexpected reboot (that might “eat” your 30-page report as well as its backup copy) – you were all set.
And then along came Apple with its MacOS. MacOS has a rich history of its own but tl;dr Apple took a rock solid operating system core – made of Unix – and blended it with a rich and beautiful and intuitive user interface – made by design geniuses. When I bought my first Apple laptop, I knew I’d never go back. My machine didn’t crash anymore. There were plenty of equally beautiful apps for me to use. It was so elegant and pleasing that I actually looked forward to my interactions with it. Best of all, there was no steep learning curve and I never once had to pick up a manual.
Apple had turned the chores of my Windows laptop into delightful productivity on my Mac.
To be fair, Apple has had many, many “Apple moments”: The iPod, the iPhone, the iPad, the Apple Watch, the App Store and even the Apple stores, to name but a few. What did they all have in common? Each time they set a new, higher standard, even in categories where Apple was already ahead and as a result they created products that people didn’t know they needed until they couldn’t live without them. They shattered beliefs of what a certain thing or experience should be or look like. And they were all marked by their elegance and beauty. In fact, when I think of Apple, I think of a company that doesn’t make me choose between form and function. I don’t have to settle. I can have it all.
And that’s the whole point of Contentstack’s Project Venus. Headless CMS as a technology shift has been immensely exciting – initially for developers who could build superior experiences and build them faster using state-of-the-art tools and frameworks and languages. Then for forward-thinking businesses that were able to find and hire such developers.
It’s time for everyone else to get inspired too. Just like developers don’t want to work with clunky, ugly, old technology, content managers and marketers don’t want to use outdated software or fill out ugly forms all day. In reality, that’s what using a CMS still looks like for most people today.
Our belief is that people do their best work when you remove all the technology hurdles blocking them from doing what they truly want and need to do. By reimagining the CMS user experience, the ugly and burdensome part of content management simply melts away. What remains is an experience that is as effective and productive as it is pleasant to the senses. Now, everyone who wants to can participate in the content development life cycle – from creation, to management, to delivery.
So burn the CMS manuals and take Contentstack’s new user experience for a spin. We hope you’ll love it as much as we do!