In a recent meeting where I was training a client to use their new WordPress website, I suggested they keep the “front end” open in one browser tab and and the “back end” open in another. My client was having trouble understanding what “front end” and “back end” referred to. Having just finished the Netflix series, “Stranger Things,” it occurred to me that the front/back end of a website, for a client, might be a bit like the “Upside Down” world in this popular Sci-Fi series.
In “Stranger Things,” a group of teenage boys attempts to find their lost friend, who they believe is trapped in an alternate dimension they call “The Upside Down.” They filter their experiences through the lens of their favorite game, Dungeons and Dragons, specifically a location called the Vale of Shadows. Their science teacher describes the alternate reality with a drawing of a tightrope, on which balances an acrobat and a flea. On top of the rope, the dimension has rules, you can move forward or backward. The flea, being small, can travel forward and backward, but can do so on the side or even underneath the tightrope, which he describes as another dimension.
In our WordPress world, the “front end” of a website is in full color, vibrant and living. To a client, this is their website. That’s all they know.
Introduce the “back end” to someone who has never seen the WordPress Dashboard, and it can be as foreign and scary to them as the “Upside Down” world is in “Stranger Things.” It’s not as colorful, vibrant or “real” looking as the front end, and it is easy to get lost. There are places which contain sticky webs of code they don’t understand. As one of the boys in the show, Dustin, describes, “The Vale of Shadows is a dimension that is a dark reflection or echo of our world … It is a place of decay and death…. It is right next to you and you don’t even see it.”
Of course, we developers know the Dashboard is actually where all the important, “real” stuff happens, and that actually the “front end” is more of the alternate dimension! We are certainly not scared of the back end (unless we are Cowboy Coding, in which case, be afraid be very afraid!). Most of us spend most of our time in the “Upside Down” and love it there. It is easy to forget how we felt the first time we saw the WordPress Dashboard.
Realizing that for our clients, the back end of their website can be like the “Upside Down” should help us be sensitive to how we instruct our clients. As developers, it is our responsibility to help our clients feel safe and reassured so they can comfortably make minor edits to their website and make the most of the WordPress content management system. We can slay the monster that makes our client’s website scary by keeping this in mind.