Security Trimmed UI: Great for Reining in Precocious Users, Bad for Me

February 5, 2007 at 2:01 pm | Posted in Microsoft SharePoint, portals, usability | Leave a comment

I’d like to go back to a topic that’s been near and dear to my heart for about 15 years now – user interface design. I did quite a bit of work on web usability in OS/2 GUIs and again in the early portal and web days when it seemed UI design hadn’t caught up with the need for dynamic and personalized sites (it still hasn’t). Well, my rant today isn’t about UI design for portals, but for the security-trimmed interfaces that are all the rage these days. There seem to be an increasing number of applications whose interfaces make me feel like a precocious child being shielded from the dangerous consequences of my inquisitiveness.

Microsoft has taken the plunge, most noticeably for me in SharePoint. I’m trying to find the audience creation functionality in Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 and the problem seems to be that my server doesn’t have that functionality enabled. But I can’t tell for sure. Searching for specific step-by-step instructions has proven futile except for one streaming video of a presentation of someone demonstrating it with the camera focusing (or trying to) on the screen behind the speaker.

I had a similar problem with an audio waveform editor that I have. The manual kept referring to some great pitch fixing functionality. It made it seem so easy to launch the editing screen that they didn’t even have to describe the process other than to say “After launching the pitch editor …”. I spent half an hour searching for it (right click on the waveform? Is it a button in another wave editing screen?) to no avail. Finally after an email to support I was told it’s only on the “pro” version of the product (this isn’t mentioned anywhere in the manual as it must have been a last minute marketing decision to make that a premium feature) and therefore the interface was trimmed not to show it to me.

I understand the usefulness of the security or rights trimmed interface. It can help both the app owner (keep users from asking about features they don’t have) and end user (avoid confusion by simplifying the interface). But I believe it’s being overdone and without due consideration for the negatives (it’s hard to definitively tell an option is not present, so one continues searching).

UI designers should:

1. Allow opting in or out of a trimmed UI. Consider an option for the end user to select “advanced mode” that shows all options with those not selectable grayed out
2. Make sure manuals and online help are accurate. They need to show exactly how to launch their functionality (the exact menu or button and where it’s found) and describe why it may not be visible
3. Consider the negatives of a trimmed UI as well as the positives and act accordingly. For applications where precociousness is not as prevalent or dangerous consider just graying out unavailable options.

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