Design in WordPress 3.2

“The focus for this release was making WordPress faster and lighter. The first thing you’ll notice when you log in to 3.2 is a refreshed dashboard design that tightens the typography, design, and code behind the admin. (Rhapsody in Grey?)”

Matt Mullenweg, WordPress 3.2 now available

Back during the development of WordPress 2.8, the core team decided to solicit some ideas for dashboard refreshes. Two designs inspired by Dean J. Robinson’s Fluency Admin plugin, submitted by Dean and myself, led the informal poll the core team conducted. Ultimately the team decided to save the update for a later version of WordPress and that version came today, when WordPress 3.2 was released with the new dashboard design. A thread on the Make UI blog follows its progress as it came together. We removed unnecessary chrome, refined typography, lightened the page, and generally listened to Alan Cooper‘s advice on interface design: “No matter how beautiful, no matter how cool your interface, it would be better if there were less of it.”

An aside on typography: I’ve seen a few people question why we chose Arial over Helvetica for most text in the dashboard. I actually believe Arial is a better option when you’re working with text that will be displayed at 13px or below. I know that’s heresy for a graphic designer, but consider this. Helvetica, when it’s installed on Windows PCs, does not work well as a web font. Helvetica Neue is available primarily on Macs and at sufficient weights it looks great, which is why we do use it in some places. But at the default font size in the WordPress dashboard, I think Arial’s readability trumps the dogmatic purity of using Helvetica. I know this is purely subjective and this reasoning won’t change the minds of those who believe Arial is on the same level as Comic Sans — but if the sight of Arial truly offends you, I suggest disabling it OS-wide. You’ll get Helvetica in its place, and everyone will be happy. :) (Update: In the forthcoming 3.2.1 update, WordPress will use the browser-default sans-serif instead, so Mac users will see Helvetica, Windows users will see Arial, and if someone actually specifies what they want their browser default to be, we’ll use that.)

I’m proud of the updated typography and cleaner look of the new dashboard, but my favorite aspect of WordPress 3.2 was a great surprise when I first saw it. It’s also Matt Mullenweg’s favorite new feature — the new distraction-free writing mode. Combined with the Editor Styles feature popularized in last year’s Twenty Ten theme, composing in WordPress is akin to using a minimalist web-based text editor.

Composing this post in Distraction-Free Writing mode

Speaking of Twenty Ten, it’s got a beautiful successor in Twenty Eleven, the new default theme for WordPress. Following up on the improvements we made with last year’s iteration, Twenty Eleven adds a responsive design, post formats, customizable color schemes and layout configurations and more. Read Ian’s introduction to Twenty Eleven for the full rundown. This blog is using Twenty Eleven now with the one-column layout and a custom background.

There’s a ton of other features in 3.2, including faster performance, Browse Happy integration, a more useful admin bar, and hundreds of behind-the-scenes improvements. Read the exhaustive official list to see everything that’s new — then go update your blog, or start a new one!