December 10, 2012, 7:38 AM — As I wrote in Cloud UI Design Mistakes to Avoid, it is possible to make a user interface too easy. Because by making the UI a snap to navigate, using cutesy names in place of standard terms and filling the control panel with bright, shiny objects, you make users think they know what they are doing, even when they have no clue about the consequences of their actions. This goes double for system administrators who may be setting up disaster scenarios at the touch of a button.
Don't set off the curmudgeon alarms yet. I'm not going to rant about the need for a command line for cloud applications. However, I am going to make the case for a disciplined user interface, particularly for the system administrator or super user whose actions often have serious consequences.
Cloud Administration UI Can't Follow the Tracks of Your Tears
Cloud applications and platforms have made tremendous strides in interactivity and usability of their administrative control systems. Considering that these administrator tools have to run inside a browser, some of the drag-and-drop capabilities are nothing short of amazing. No complaint from anyone there.
Given the amount of work involved in getting those control panels to work, it shouldn't be a surprise that there isn't much in the way of administrative cues or context-sensitive help. Most of the time, "Are you sure?" is all you can expect. Sometimes, though, "Do you understand that 108,347 leads will be affected by this?" would be a better idea. Of course, admins may blithely click Continue anyway, but at least they know they have themselves to blame.
The real problem starts when an administrator UI doesn't have a whiff of an undo. Inevitably, some actions will cause data changes that can't be undone. At the very least, you could offer to revert the administrative setting to whatever it was before the "oops."
When coding, word processing or using spreadsheets, we all expect to have several levels of undo. In the admin's browser UI, though, I can't think of an example of even a two-level administrative undo. In many cloud apps, the only way to back-track is to take a screenshot before every administrative change. What a pain.