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WICS: A Usability Score for Web Software

wicsOver the last decade, I've spent my days teaching people how to use web software.

Some of that software has been easy to teach - students seem to understand the interface quickly.

Other software has been painful to teach - I've had to teach students to master long, complicated processes.

But, those were just feelings based on my limited experience. I couldn't prove that one system was easier to use than another. I couldn't prove that there were easy ways for this software to become more usable.

So, after a lot of thought, I've develped WICS: a usability score for web software. Allow me to present the first draft of WICS ...

What is the WICS system?

The WICS system is based on tasks inside the software. Some examples are:

  • Add an image to your content
  • Add a new user to your site
  • Categorize your content

I've scored each task based on 4 criteria:

  • Words: How many new or unusual words must the user learn?
  • Ideas: How many new or unusual ideas must the user learn?
  • Clicks: How many clicks must the user make?
  • Screens: How many screens must the user visit?

Each task produces its own score. The scores can be added up to produce a total for the software platform.

There are other usability scores out there such as the System Usability Scale, but those are based on user emotions (the Likert scale). I wanted something more practical, more heuristic

Word, Ideas, Clicks, Screens = WICS. Let's jump in and I'll show you how WICS works.

About these examples

  • I'll use 5 examples from WordPress, Joomla and Drupal, because that's the software I know best.
  • Don't worry too much about the exact score. The difference between 11 and 12 or between 40 and 41 is not important. I believe this system is most useful for identifying pain points, rather than giving scientifically accurate results. 
  • I'm using the default installs of each software. Yes, each platform can be greatly simplified by an expert, but that's a different issue.

Example #1. Creating Content

Let's start off with an easy example: creating content. I'll start from the viewpoint of someone logging into the system for the first time.

With all of the platforms, you can create content very easily:

WordPress scores 6:

  • Words: 2 (Posts and Pages)
  • Ideas: 1 (The difference between Posts and Pages)
  • Clicks: 2 (Add New > Publish)
  • Screens: 1

Joomla scores 5:

  • Words: 1 (Articles)
  • Ideas: 1 (Articles are how Joomla stores content)
  • Clicks: 2 (Add New Article > Save & Close)
  • Screens: 1

Drupal scores 8:

  • Words: 2 (Article, Basic Page)
  • Ideas: 1 (The difference between Article and Basic Page)
  • Clicks: 3 (Add content > Article > Save)
  • Screens: 2

Example #2. Adding Images

Let's take another example: adding images to content. I'm going to start from the viewpoint of someone who is in the process of creating an article.

WordPress scores 6:

  • Words: 1 (Media)
  • Ideas: 0
  • Clicks: 3 (Add Media > Drag the image > Insert into post)
  • Screens: 2

Joomla scores 8:

  • Words: 0
  • Ideas: 0
  • Clicks: 6 (Image > Choose Files > Open > Start Upload > Select the image > Insert)
  • Screens: 2

Drupal scores 5, assuming you use Article. If we used Basic Page the score would be over 20:

  • Words: 0
  • Ideas: 0
  • Clicks: 3 (Choose file > Open > Upload)
  • Screens: 2

Example #3. Adding Users

Let's take a third example: adding users. This actually turns out to be easier than creating content:

WordPress scores 3:

  • Words: 0
  • Ideas: 0
  • Clicks: 2 (Add New > Add New User)
  • Screens: 1

Joomla scores 3:

  • Words: 0
  • Ideas: 0
  • Clicks: 2 (Add New User > Save & Close)
  • Screens: 1

Drupal scores 5:

  • Words: 1 (People)
  • Ideas: 0
  • Clicks: 3 (People > Add User > Create new account)
  • Screens: 1

Example #4. Adding Extra Features

Now we really get into the differentiators. How hard is it to add extra features to the site?

WordPress scores 6:

  • Words: 1 (Plugins)
  • Ideas: 0
  • Clicks: 2 (Add New > Search Plugins > Install Now > OK > Activate Plugin)
  • Screens: 3

Joomla scores 6:

  • Words: 1 (Extensions)
  • Ideas: 0
  • Clicks: 2 (Extension Manager > Click the Extension > Install > Install)
  • Screens: 3

Drupal scores 17:

  • Words: 1 (Modules)
  • Ideas: 1 (Modules are outside the site on
  • Clicks: 9 ( > Copy URL > Modules > Install new module > Paste URL > Install > Enable > Check the box > Save configuration)
  • Screens: 6

Example #5. Organizing Content

Let's look at organizing content. Again, I'm going to take the perspective of a user who is writing content.

WordPress scores 5. You can organize your content at the same time as you are writing.

  • Words: 1 (Categories)
  • Ideas: 1 (Categories are used to organize content)
  • Clicks: 2 (Add New Category > Add New Category)
  • Screens: 1

Joomla scores 12. You need to leave your content writing to create categories:

  • Words: 1 (Categories)
  • Ideas: 1 (Categories are used to organize content)
  • Clicks: 5 (Save & Close > Add New Category > Save & Close > Article Manager > Edit)
  • Screens: 5

Drupal has a score of about 41.

  • Words: 4 (Taxonomy, Vocabulary, Terms, Term Reference)
  • Ideas: 2 (Vocabularies contain terms, Terms are added via fields)
  • Clicks: 18 (explanation below)
  • Screens: 17 (explanation below)

Structure > Taxonomy > Add vocabulary > Save > Add terms > Save > Structure > Content types > Manage fields > Add new field > Select a field > type > Save > Choose Vocabulary > Save field settings > Save settings > Find Content > Edit.


This was by far the hardest Joomla and Drupal task.


  • WordPress was the easiest system for these tasks. WordPress had a total of 26, Joomla had 34 and Drupal had 76.
  • WordPress is making a smart choice in version 3.9 by allowing users to upload images by dragging them onto the editor. That would reduce their score for images to 1.
  • Joomla and Drupal could make life much easier for users by allowing them to create categories while writing.
  • Drupal would benefit from an appstore to install plugins automatically.

How this system could be improved

This system, as I've outlined it, is far from perfect. Here's at least three ways it could be improved:

  • Weighting the results: Ideas are much harder to learn than clicks. The book Developing Technical Training has been invaluable in helping me think about this. Ideally, ideas would score as much as several clicks or screens.
  • Ideas and words are subjective: Click and screens can be counted exactly. What is a difficult idea? What is a new word? Anyone using these criteria does need to account for the technical experience of their users. Or, perhaps user could self-identify which words and ideas are confusing.
  • Include a way to account for busy screens. I tried to account for possible confusion by including Screens as a metric. However, there's a huge difference between a cluttered screen and a clean screen.

Who is WICS for?

I think WICS can help trainers like me, but it could be even more useful for developers trying to make easy-to-use software.

It would be very useful to create a list of the 10, 20 or 30 common tasks and see what the score is for your software. Unlike scores based on the Likert scale, developers can run these scores with or without external testers.

Over to you

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this system. Where does it fail currently? How could it be made better?

About the author
Steve is the founder of OSTraining. Originally from the UK, he now lives in Sarasota in the USA. He was a teacher for many years before starting OSTraining. Steve wrote the best-selling Drupal and Joomla books.

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