admins are users too

25 May, 2012

In working with software projects for the web I find that a very important class of end-user is often overlooked: the admins.  We often work very hard to make sure the user experience (UX) is great, the information architecture (IA) is spot on and a site is performant but the people behind the scenes curating a site day to day often get a less than optimal UX to do their job.  (I’m not talking about sysadmins, db admins or infrastructure admins – although this post could certainly apply to their specific experiences and Dev[/No]Ops certainly helps.)

This is something I discuss often with colleagues and try to instill within my implementation teams at NorthPoint Digital: I feel it is equally important for the whole ecosystem of a website to be able to give those who curate it just as good a UX as the front end user.  This doesn’t mean they get all the same UI bells and whistles but rather they get the right bells and whistles that elevate their administrative experience beyond what usually is a second, third or even lower class thought.  It also is important to be aware that not all admins are created equal and the duties each perform may vary in complexity and capability and the UX should be sensitive to this.

  • Work within the metaphor of the environment.   When extending an environment with custom administrative functions, follow the metaphor so admins can generally know “what to do” based on past experience in the environment
  • Use meaningful and consistent iconography.  Not only does this look good, but admins (and developers!) will intuitively know what they’re looking at.  Iconography should also follow the visual rules of the environment.
  • Descriptive names win. Always.  It’s better to choose  from inserting a new “Landing Page with Left Rail” than inserting a new “page_layout_4”
  • Contextually limit options.  Not all admins need super-admin powers.  Limiting choice is good and makes it very clear to the admin what’s supported in a certain context.  In the case of content management this also helps enforce IA.
  • IA isn’t just front-facing.  Think about that.
  • Be consistent.
  • Be informative.  Feedback and [helpful] direction is good, especially using plain language.
  • Making it simple does not mean dumbing it down.  Sometimes the complex needs to be broken into manageable bits.

That’s just a start – now go forth and make an admin happy today!