Transforming Drupal Site Building: Lauri Timmanee on Experience Builder and Starshot Initiative

Drupal XB’s Role in Simplifying Site Launches and Enhancing UX
Transforming Drupal Site Building: Lauri Timmanee on Experience Builder and Starshot Initiative | Drupal XB’s Role in Simplifying Site Launches and Enhancing UX

Experience Builder is set to redefine how we build and launch Drupal sites. As a cornerstone of the broader Starshot initiative, this module aims to seamlessly bridge the gap between Drupal installation and a fully functional site, simplifying the process for all users.

Kazima Abbas, sub-editor at The Drop Times, had the opportunity to connect with Lauri Timmanee, the Product Lead for the Experience Builder initiative and a key player in Acquia’s Drupal Acceleration Team. Lauri's extensive background includes roles as a subsystem maintainer for Drupal themes like Claro and CKEditor 5 and as a Drupal Core Committer since 2017.

At DrupalCon Lille, Lauri Timmanee and his team unveiled the "Next Generation Page Builder" initiative, an exciting development that promises to elevate Drupal's capabilities. Building on user feedback, the initiative has expanded its scope, incorporating basic theming capabilities and renaming itself as the "Experience Builder."

Complementing the Drupal Starshot initiative, first introduced by Dries Buytaert at DrupalCon Portland 2024, Experience Builder aims to enhance the user journey from installation to site launch, making it more intuitive and user-friendly.

In this interview, Lauri shares the inspiration and vision behind the Experience Builder initiative. He explains how this project leverages Drupal's strengths in structured data and content management, setting it apart from competing tools. By decoupling data from design, Experience Builder enhances Drupal’s composability, allowing for more flexible and robust site architectures.

Readers will gain insight into how Experience Builder integrates design systems, supports multilingual content, and utilizes Drupal's powerful content governance workflows and decoupled APIs. Lauri also discusses how the module empowers site builders and developers of all levels to create engaging digital experiences directly in their browsers, ensuring consistent design and high-quality content.

Discover how the Experience Builder module is set to transform Drupal development, complementing the goals of the Starshot initiative, and paving the way for a more accessible and streamlined site-building process. Join us as we explore Lauri's insights and the future of Drupal with the Experience Builder initiative.

Now, let’s delve into the interview:

TDT [1]: Could you share a bit about your journey with Drupal and how you ended up as a Product Manager, spearheading initiatives like the Experience Builder?

Lauri Timmanee: I discovered Drupal first during Drupal 5. I didn't understand Drupal back then, but I gave Drupal another try later after Drupal 6 was released. At the time I used to be a freelance web developer, and Drupal 6 came with many improvements that made it easier to build a Drupal site as someone who didn't know that much programming. For example, CSS Injector was something that I was excited about because it allowed me to build sites custom to brand simply by installing a theme and writing CSS within the browser. I later worked several jobs in Drupal agencies, gradually learning more about Drupal module and theme development.

During Drupal 8 development, I got excited by some of the improvements the community worked on, such as the UX improvements and frontend developer improvements. In DrupalCon Prague, I joined my first sprint, and I decided to help the Twig team with the template and preprocess function migration efforts. Later I got involved in the Drupal 8 critical work during which I was able to up my Drupal skills and get much deeper into some of the backend systems, such as the cache system and render system. I was using most of my free time on Drupal contributions and got burned out. I decided to take some time off from my contribution to focus on other things, like new front-end frameworks that were popular at the time.

In late 2016 I got back into contributing and I was leading the Out of The Box initiative which also happened to have the goal of making Drupal more accessible to a broader audience. At this time, I was in Australia, and I was joining community meetings at 4 am to make sure that folks from Europe and the US could join. This was my first time leading an initiative, and I learned a lot about coordinating contributors and working with the stakeholders to ensure alignment in the direction.

In 2018, Acquia hired me as one of the technical leads to administer UI modernization. The initiative aimed to rebuild the admin UI with JavaScript, but we ultimately ended up scaling this back to building a new admin theme. This time taught me a lot about what it takes to make really hard decisions, both on the product side and the technical side.,

Transforming Drupal Site Building: Lauri Eskola on Experience Builder and Starshot Initiative
A Drupal Acceleration Team Onsite Meet in 2018, shortly after I joined the team

In 2023, I decided that I wanted to shift my career towards product management. I've always been inspired to have an impact on users' lives by making improvements to products, and I felt that working as a product manager provided a better opportunity to do that. I'm extremely grateful that the core committer team and Dries supported me with this decision and helped me transition to the new role. It has been just over a year since I started in the new role, and I must admit it has been one hell of a year. I'm really glad to have the opportunity to work with Dries and the other committers to unify the community behind the Drupal Starshot vision over the last year.

TDT [2]: With your experience as a subsystem maintainer for various Drupal Core subsystems, could you highlight some of the critical subsystems you manage and the improvements you've recently implemented?

Lauri Timmanee: I maintain CKEditor 5, Claro, and Theme API. I'm generally not a great maintainer because I usually focus my efforts on issues where I believe I can maximize my impact, which means that I end up neglecting my subsystem maintainer responsibilities.

For example, last year I worked on improving the user experience of the Field UI. I believe this was a great project because it touches on parts of Drupal that all users of Drupal are required to use, and it's on the critical path for onboarding new users. It also hasn't seen any significant improvements over the years, and we had data from many rounds of user testing.

Transforming Drupal Site Building: Lauri Eskola on Experience Builder and Starshot Initiative
Leading a workshop with a group of Drupal core committers in 2023 to define the Ambitious Site Builders' jobs and needs.

TDT [3]: What upcoming trends or advancements in front-end development do you think will significantly influence Drupal's evolution in the next few years?

Lauri Timmanee: I do anticipate that the role of JavaScript for web development will continue to influence Drupal's evolution in future. I believe this shift is also visible in the Drupal community. For example,

Experience Builder will be leveraging more JavaScript than what we've historically used with Drupal modules.

If the current trends continue, in future, Experience Builder will also have to provide ways for JavaScript developers to implement design systems within Drupal by using JavaScript. This way, JavaScript developers could use JavaScript with their favourite JavaScript framework without losing many of the things that are great about Drupal, but you only get them when you build a site without decoupling.

TDT [4]: The Drupal Experience Builder module seems poised to revolutionise website building by enabling non-Drupal users to easily theme and build websites using only their browser. Can you elaborate on how this initiative came about and what inspired its development?

Lauri Timmanee: When I started as a product manager for Drupal Core, I started by doing user interviews. I intended to learn more about the value the ongoing initiatives deliver. During these interviews, a few users steered the conversation towards how difficult it was for them to build the pages for designs given by their designers. This was a lead I decided to pick up later, and I decided to do research focused on page and theme building. I was somewhat surprised to learn about how many users were impacted by this problem and how many organizations were investing to solve this problem internally.

This started as the next-gen page builder initiative at first. At that point, there was a remaining challenge; it was still focused primarily on the content creator persona, leaving developers responsible for implementing the designs. Later on, as our thoughts around our target persona got more clarity and we started forming Drupal Starshot, we realized we would need to include theme building as part of the capabilities we would build into the solution. Therefore, it was named Experience Builder.

TDT [5]: What do you envision as the future of the Drupal Experience Builder module? Are there any upcoming features or developments that you're particularly excited about?

Lauri Timmanee: I envision that in the upcoming years, the Drupal Experience Builder will revolutionize how Drupal sites are built, making Drupal and its capabilities accessible to a broader audience. As a result, I'm looking forward to meeting many new people who are joining our community.

Seeing how energized our community is due to the Experience Builder and Drupal Starshot initiatives has already been great. While I'm looking forward to meeting many new people, I'm excited about the journey we are going to be taking as a community to build these innovative capabilities. I have many good memories from past initiatives, and I expect to create some great new ones as part of the Experience Builder initiative.

TDT [6]: The Starshot initiative simplifies site-building and makes Drupal more accessible by providing pre-packaged recipes and templates. How does this initiative impact the Drupal ecosystem, particularly for agencies and site builders?

Lauri Timmanee: The product, 'Drupal Starshot' is building, will reduce the total cost of ownership and time to value for agencies and site builders. Due to Drupal Starshot's focus on improving Drupal's innovation model by empowering and funding a broader group of people to maintain and own parts of the default product, agencies and site builders can also expect more state-of-the-art innovations.

TDT [7]: How do you foresee the Experience Builder initiative complementing the goals of the Starshot initiative, especially in terms of enhancing Drupal's user experience and accessibility?

Lauri Timmanee: The Drupal Starshot initiative focuses on the whole user journey of building a Drupal site, from installation to launching a site. The Experience Builder will make the steps after installation before launching a site significantly easier.

Experience Builder will enable site builders and junior developers without Drupal Experience to create digital experiences that match their brand all within their browsers.

Given that Experience Builder is built to complement Drupal's existing strengths, the site builders can enable a broad set of content creators to publish high-quality content without sacrificing design consistency.

TDT [8]: Can you provide insights into how the Experience Builder initiative aligns with Drupal's strengths in structured data and content management and how it distinguishes itself from competing tools?

Lauri Timmanee: Experience Builder will be built with structured data and design systems in mind from the get-go.

Experience Builder will decouple data from the design, which makes Drupal's architecture even more composable than before.

At first, Experience Builder focuses on building pages using a design system while leveraging Drupal's structured data engine. While it does this, it will be able to leverage Drupal's pre-existing capabilities for multilingual content governance workflows and decoupled APIs. Ultimately, Experience Builder will make it possible for users to leverage the same design system components in block layout, Views, page templates, and page content.

TDT [9]: Could you share some key achievements of the Experience Builder initiative thus far and the roadmap for its future development?

Lauri Timmanee: It's still early days for Experience Builder, but the fact that we now have a team of developers and UX designers working on It is a key achievement. We are currently focused on defining the UX for the Experience Builder, and we aim to provide some early previews during the DrupalCons later this year.

TDT [10]: How do you see Drupal evolving in the context of Experience Builder and other initiatives, and what role do you envision for community contributions in shaping Drupal's future direction?

Lauri Timmanee: Both Experience Builder and Drupal Starshot are focused on making Drupal more accessible to less technical users. This means that we will have to focus on providing users with improvements that help them do their jobs easier and faster. This includes building recipes and design systems that non-technical users can use to accelerate their Drupal site builds. We also want these non-technical users to be able to leverage the full power of Drupal, meaning that we need to concentrate on making the module ecosystem accessible to less technical users. Sometimes, existing solutions are held down by technical limitations.

We need to prioritize ease of use and push boundaries of what is possible.

Lauri Timmanee, Project Lead, 
Experience Builder

Disclaimer: The information provided about the interviewee has been gathered from publicly available resources. The responsibility for the responses shared in the interview solely rests with the featured individual.

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