Cloud UI Design Mistakes to Avoid
Great user interface design for cloud apps is harder than it looks. Here are mistakes we've recently experienced along with some possible solution strategies.
Thu, December 15, 2011
CIO — I've written for years that it is impossible to make a product too easy to use. But the industry has proved me wrong, by making products that are so focused on easy that they encourage sloppy, unmaintainable system configurations. In the pursuit of something easy enough for mortals to use (and sales reps to demo), some cloud vendors are paving the way for a big mess a few months after deployment.
Focus on Good Looks!
Vendors are getting better and better at making UIs that are graphically pretty, with embedded animation and supposedly-helpful hints. But this often leads to "bright shiny objects" that obscure the things that the user is actually trying to achieve. Sure, the sizzle may sell...but it makes the product harder for the real pro to use. Beauty is only skin deep, even with UI skins.
Solution strategy: Push vendors for better navigation and "information architecture" in their products. Find out if the vendor has a usability group -- use that as one of your qualification criteria. Before you sign up, insist that you get a seat at future usability review or testing sessions.
Ever since Intuit used their continuous saving feature to clobber Microsoft Money, UI designers have been putting in continuous auto-save. It's nice, but with products that have some administrative complexity a simplistic auto-save is a guaranteed disaster. If the UI is going to be auto-saving complex rules, configurations, or parameters, it needs to also provide:
• The ability to backtrack (undo), preferably for all the changes made over several login sessions.
• Automatic logging of all changes in a setup audit trail, indicating who changed what when. Bonus points if the UI forces the person making the change to indicate why they're making it.
• The ability to snapshot a configuration and export it (preferably as an XML file).
• The ability to import those (XML) snapshot files, either for testing, disaster recovery or simple cloning.
Solution Strategy: Evaluate UIs for features along these lines, find out if there are third-party products (such as CVS) that could help, and pin the vendors down on their roadmaps before you sign.
It's so Easy!
Cloud vendors are innovating like crazy, and it is important that the features be usable. But over-focusing on the UI can mean that engineering has no time for programmatic access to features. And that means that a 'Great' product will be 'Not So Hot' when you try to put it to serious use: