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Improving Drupal's Admin UI With Cristina Chumillas

August 20, 2019

open waters

Welcome to Mediacurrent’s Open Waters, a podcast about open source solutions. In this episode, we catch up with Cristina Chumillas. Cristina comes from the design world and is passionate about front-end development. She works at Lullabot (though when we recorded this, she worked at Ymbra) and has been involved in the Drupal community for years, contributing with code, design, and organizing events. Her contributions to Drupal Core are mainly focused on front-end, design and UX. Nowadays, she's a co-organizer of the Drupal Admin UI & JS Modernization Initiative and a Drupal core UX maintainer.

Project Pick


Interview with Cristina Chumillas

  1. Tell us about yourself: What is your role, who do you work for, and where are you from?
  2. You are a busy woman, what events have you recently attended and/or are scheduled to attend in the near future?
  3. Which Drupal core initiatives are you currently contributing to?
  4. How does a better admin theme UI help site owners?  
  5. What are the main goals?
  6. Is this initiative sponsored by anyone? 
  7. Who is the target for the initiative? 
  8. How is the initiative organized? 
  9. What improvements will it bring in a short/mid/long term?
  10. How can people get involved in helping with these initiatives?


  • Cristina contributed to the Out Of The Box initiative for a while, together with podcast co-host Mario
  • 3 reasons why Drupal needs a better admin theme UI: Content Productivity, savings, less frustration
  • Main goals: We have 2 separate paths: the super-fancy JS app that will land in an undefined point in the future and Claro as the new realistic & releasable short term work that will introduce improvements on each release.
  • Why focus on admin UI?  We’re focusing on the content author's experience because that’s one of the main pain points mentioned in an early survey we did last year.)
  • How is the initiative organized? JS, UX&User studies, New design system (UI), Claro (new theme)
  • What improvements will it bring in a short/mid/long term? Short: New theme/UI, Mid: editor role with specific features, autosave, Long: JS app. 


Mark Casias: Welcome to Mediacurrent’s Open Waters podcast, a podcast about open source solutions. I'm Mark Casias. Bob Kepford is on special assignment, which is podcast talk for not available. But with me is Mario Hernandez.

Mario Hernandez: Hello, everybody.

Mark: Welcome Mario. And this episode, we're going to be talking to Cristina Chumillas. I knew I was going to blow that right the first time. Cristina Chumillas. Cristina comes from the design world and is passionate about front end development. She works at Ymbra. Did I say that, I messed that one up even though we discussed how to pronounce it.

Cristina Chumillas: No, that's perfect. That sounds good.

Mark: Ymbra. Yeah. Okay, and has been involved in the Drupal community for years, you're actually not in Spain, but you are in...

Cristina: Catalonia.

Mark: Catalonia. So we are now an international podcast, look at us go. She's been with the Drupal community for years contributing code, designing, and organizing events. Her contributions to Drupal core are mainly focused on the front end design, UX, and nowadays core organizer of the Drupal admin UI and JS modernization initiative, which I've mispronounced that word as well. So basically I can't speak in either of our languages. And of course you're a Drupal Core UX maintainer. Welcome to the show.

Cristina: Thank you. That's a lot of information.

Mark: Yeah, that is actually, I kind of just like put that out there really heavy, but we'll talk more about that as well. What I do want to talk about first is the project pick our Pro Project Pick and we're of course going to be promoting a project with every episode. And this episode, we're going to promote the new admin theme which is Claro. And you've been working on that as well, right?

Cristina: Yeah. Mainly I've been working on the design side, then Lauri Eskola is the one that is actually leading the implementation part, front end lead or maintainer. He actually knows what can go there. So he's actually the person leading the implementation and I'm kind of helping with the design system there.

Mario: And you were saying this is gonna be experimental in Drupal 8.8?

Cristina: Yeah. So the goal was actually having it sooner, but we're having some issues because, you know, you always want, when you want to do something for Drupal core, you think, oh, it's going to be easy. We just have to do that. And then everything blows up and you'll find a lot of stuff that involves a really, a small battle on your kind of find a lot of work to work on. And also, we had a little bit of lack of designers working here, so we didn't have an enough evolved design to implement for a while. So now that we're kind of having more staff designers on the design system, now we have the huge problems on the implementation. Well, not problems, huge...

Mario: Just setbacks, I guess.

Cristina: Yeah. That's, let's say that, something like that. Yeah. So we need to figure out how to solve some things and especially on Drupal core, because it's going to be there in the future. So ideally for 8.8 is going to be a least experimental. So we are working on an MVP and I believe it's going to be on Drupal nine as the default admin theme.

Mario: So this is kind of where eventually the idea is this will replace seven and Drupal eight for the admin part of the triple theme. Excellent. It looks really nice by looking at at least the screenshots that we see on the project page, and the link to the project page will be on our show notes. So, Christina, I want to thank you for taking the time. I know we're in way, way different time zones and you're probably getting ready for dinner while we were just getting up here, at least for me in the Pacific.

Cristina: Yeah, well, in Barcelona our dinner is not at five, it's more at eight, nine.

Mario: I have a friend who came from Barcelona also and he said that his dinner was normally around 11:00 PM, which to me is, outrageous.

Cristina: Well, yeah, it happens.

Mario: Yeah. We know you and a lot of people out there especially in the Drupal community, know you really well because you are very busy and you contribute a lot to the project, but why don't you tell those people who don't know you very well about yourself, you know, what is your role? We already went over some of that, and we already covered who you work for and, and where you're from, but a little bit more detailed. What you know, what you do, what does your day-to-day look like as you work on development?

Cristina: You mean on my work or on Drupal?

Mario: Like what, what kind of work do you normally do, whether it's for yourself contributing or for your full-time job?

Cristina:Okay. So right now most of my time is actually, at Ymbra we really think that giving back to the communities are important things. So right now I've been for me it's been some months that most of my time is being contributing to the admin UI. So usually my work is doing front-end stuff and leading the design side at the company also, but this last month has been mainly contributing to the admin UI initiative, leading and designing all the design systems and helping on moving some stuff also on the UI/UX side here, trying to have, for example, a new role. So, I would say organizing things to be sure that they happen and moving things since, for the admin UI to kind of make that happen. So the last month has been more like this, the whole thing.

Mario: Yeah, no, you're definitely really busy. And I follow you on Twitter and you're all over the place. Can you tell us what's what events have you recently attended or scheduled to attend? Cause I lost track, really. Last time I saw you was at DrupalCon Seattle, so that was just a couple months ago.

Cristina: Yeah, well, yeah, since then, I think I've been at DrupalCon Spain, in Conil in the south of Spain, and then last week I was at Frontend United at Utrecht in the Netherlands, and next week, in two weeks, one or two weeks, I'm going to Drupal Dev Days, which is amazing. It's going to be in (inaudible), I'm taking one week up. We're Going to Transylvania, which is great to see Dracula's castle. Right. And apart from that, I've been at Drupal mountain camp, as you said, DrupalCon Seattle.

Mario: Yeah. Wow. That's a lot of traveling. You definitely collect a lot of frequent miles. So, I've known you for awhile and I know that you've been involved with several Drupal core initiatives. Can you mention a few of those besides the Drupal, the admin UI?

Cristina: So yeah, one of them was the one that we worked together, actually. I think that's where we met the out of the box initiative.

Mario: Yes, I helped with that a little bit, not as much as you did, but yeah.

Cristina: Well it was work, it's important. Everyone helps there. So yeah, actually you were presenting that for DrupalCon Nashville?

Mario: I did present that at Drupalcon Nashville last year. Yes.

Cristina: Exactly. So you did something to be there. I've been working on the work, helped in the past, on the out of the box. I helped on some designs, helping on the UX team, some things were needed and I helped designing the status report page. I helped with some of the designs for the media initiatives and especially on the UX, whatever is needed on the UX calls. Yeah.

Mario: So, yeah. So the out of the box initiative, which is what you're referring to, for those who are not very familiar with that name, is the Umami theme that you actually can now install on Drupal eight and is on stable state now. Right? And so it's a great out-of-the-box theme that you can install and it comes with sample content that you can show your clients or your prospects what Drupal can do out of the box without any custom modules it's, completely contrib modules. So it's a great initiative. And I know you worked on that a lot. I did help for a little bit and it's, it's a great way to, to kind of give a better idea of Drupal from just the usual blue screen that you see when you install Drupal eight. Now you actually can see a fully functioning website. So you mentioned the UI, the theme UI, which is something that you are deeply involved with recently. If I'm a site owner or a decision maker, somebody who, you know, want to improve my brand and everything, how does the admin UI help me if I want to, or if I'm interested in adopting Drupal?

Cristina: Okay. So the more, the first thing that you're going to see is that the UI is going to be different. At least it's going to be look nicer because seven, it's not a good design. It just that it's old and stuff hasn't been improved. And we are implementing new functionalities and giving a lot of flexibility with designs that were felt like eight years ago or something like that. So on the new one, the UI, we are trying to give a new design system that can be flexible enough to solve all this new functionalities, all these new features that we are seeing on other CMS or other online tools like drag and drop, these kind of things that you just give as it's normal that they are there, and we still don't have it by default on Drupal, so we are trying to improve the UI so it's more usable and nicer and, of course, more modern.

Mario: So what are the main goals when it comes to this particular project that you've found or were you know, refined or defined at the beginning of this initiative?

Cristina: So at the beginning for us was just having a nicer and more usable UI or administration interface. But when we started at the beginning, we started doing surveys, some user research, and from there, what we got was some important inputs from specially site builders and site editors. And some of the pain points that they mentioned were some things that, as obvious as I'm going to say is just like, we need better tools to manage content. And so far, what we've done on Drupal is adding and adding and adding more flexibility and more great functionality, but we're not taking care about how it really works or interacts for the final user, the person that is actually going to remain on the page, using it for years, probably. And nobody's thought of that. We take care about having great quality on code, but then we completely forget...this final user, this content editor.

Cristina: And we decided that our goal was going to give a new interface, completely thought for this content editors. So we're going to prioritize the end person managing content or creating the content. And we're kind of going to rethink all the interface. So right now for Claro, what we're going to do is first step just switching the UI to have new buttons and to have new colors and these, all these new things, but the real goal behind this is to change the UI. And actually this would be, or at least make it more usable for the final user. That's the main goal here.

Mario: Yeah. So it sounds like this is kind of for the forgotten user, right? The user that nobody thinks about, which is the content creators, content editors. Normally we build websites and this is for what people will see as a visitor, but people who are managing content are never really taken into consideration. So it's great to see that, you know, they also need an interface that works for them, that makes them more effective, more efficient when they're working on content, right.

Cristina: Especially because they are going to spend a lot of hours there. So we build a site and we completely forgot, but they are going to spend a lot of hours, and if we prepared the tools for them to be more productive and make things easier.

Mario: Absolutely. That's great. So is this sponsored by anybody or is this just done by, by the Drupal community or organizations are sponsoring this? Because obviously I'm sure the team could use the help, right? The resources and things?

Cristina: Yeah. So this is, this really has a really huge goal. I mean, a lot of work is needed here so far. If you, you can say that it is, it is sponsored, we could say that the people that we're working on here, most of the time we are being paid to work here, for example, Lauri works for Acquia and his main role is mainly making sure that these things happens for me. This last month I've been most of part of my time sponsored by Ymbra, my company. So there's a few of us that are being sponsored or part-time, but a lot of people (are) just working because it's volunteer work and that's the, one of the bigger parts of the initiative, mainly volunteers. So if there's no one, there's not a single company behind it.

Mario: Yeah. Well, that's a hint for us too, for anybody out there who wants to help out there, the help is always welcomed and needed. So, so how is this organized? Are there regular meetings that take place, or how are tasks assigned and determined who's going to work on them?

Cristina: So the initiative has like several parts. One of the parts is creating a new app that is going to work on JavaScript. That's because it's and admin UI and JavaScript initiative. A goal in the future is having a new app for content editors to work on that, but until we really get at that point, we need something before it. And here's where Claro comes because it's kind of the first step to reach that final goal. So Claro is the new theme that is going to be there until we have a fully working JavaScript app. So some people are working on this JavaScript app, Sally Young and Matt Grill, and a lot of other people, they're actually working there and making sure that Drupal is able to work on with a JavaScript app.

And on the other side, there's the, we could say the UX group of the initiative where we've been working, doing some user research. User studies, like the survey that I was mentioning at the beginning, some comparative studies, some people working here, (including) Suzanne Kennedy. I don't remember exactly if she's actually helped with a lot here, and Antonella Saverio also from Barcelona, and there are several things going on here. Then there's also another side of the initiative that is creating this design system that is going to be used both on collateral and the new JavaScript. And there are several designers here. I'm trying to coordinate that. And then there's the Claro theme that is being developed based on this design system, and mainly Lauri and some other people are working here and then the JavaScript app is mainly being organized on the JavaScript channel in Slack, on Drupal Slack, and all the other things are happening on the admin UI channel on Slack. And we, yeah, exactly. And we usually have the meetings on Wednesday, 3:00 PM. I'm not really sure what time is on the U.S., It's morning.

Mario: So that, yeah, that, I'm not sure exactly, but I'm sure people can find out if they go to the Slack channels. So, you mentioned, you know, it's going to be a new UI, it's going to be a more intuitive UI. You mentioned JavaScript. Can you talk about some of the specific features that this new admin theme will provide? And also when you mentioned JavaScript, are you referring to just vanilla JavaScript or is it a framework that the you are actually using?

Cristina: So I know they're applying to have some demos working with React. They are kind of starting to build the, the app on that. But as far as I know, they have a lot of previous work to do so they're kind of figuring out how to make that work. I'm not really sure because I'm not really involved on the JavaScript side of the initiative. That's probably something that they will know much better. I don't want to say anything that doesn't make sense, but React, at least for now, Is the framework chosen there.

Mario: Oh, okay. Well, that's good to know. Now you mentioned the Slack channels. I am part of a couple of those channels - the twig, the pattern lab, the UI patterns. And so it looks like we have an admin UI channel and the JavaScript channels that people can join to get involved if they want to either find out more about the initiative or contribute to the initiative. Are there any other ways in which people can join and participate in this work?

Cristina: Sure. Actually the project the place, which might make more sense for someone that actually wants to contribute code will be the Claro project page itself. They can visit the issue queue there and help on an issue there because right now, if we want to have Claro for 8.8, it means that we should have a workable MVP for the Claro theme, so we really need help there on the issues. There's both CSS and more complex stuff to work on. So anybody that wants to help therem it's really appreciated and just jump into the Slack channel or into the issues and ask for some work there and myself, Laurie, or someone else will point them.

Mario: Great. And again, the link to the Claro project will be posted on our show notes. Well this is, I mean, it sounds like a really great initiative. It's something that, you're right, it's been a long time coming, right? It's been a while since anything was done to the admin side of things and Drupal for people who probably spend the most time on the site more than anybody else, creating content and working with content. So I'm sure it'll be very well welcomed by those people who are in those roles. Markie, do you have any questions yourself or Christina?

Mark: No. I think you covered them all pretty well.

Mario: Well, that's good to know. We want to thank you again. So thank you so much, Cristina, for taking the time. I know you are super, super busy and we can't thank you enough for all the great work that you are doing you and your team are doing for this initiative. And as well as all the initiatives that you've been involved with, I'm sure we'll be seeing you again at different events. And we look forward to it. I myself am going to go and check out the project to see if there's anything we can do to help out as well. So thanks again. And we appreciate you taking the time to join us.

Cristina: Thank you both because giving me that time to explain that might help bring in more people there, And we really need people helping there. So thank you for taking care of this, inviting me. Great talking to you.

Mark:That's it for today's show. Thanks for joining us. If you're looking for more useful tips, technical takeaways, creative insights, visit for more episodes, and to subscribe to our newsletter. Thanks for playing.

That’s it for today’s show, thanks for joining us!  Looking for more useful tips, technical takeaways, and creative insights? Visit to subscribe and hear more episodes.

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