5 ways to make your admin interface shine

5 ways to make your admin interface shine

Your design meeting for the new website was standing room only. People who routinely wear mismatched socks showed up to express strong opinions on color hue, saturation, and value, and to weigh in on flat vs. skeuomorphic design. A public website for the enterprise is important — it’s a brand statement seen millions of times each month. So while it’s not surprising that these meetings garner internal attention, it’s unfortunate how little mindshare is paid to its less sexy alter ego, the admin interface.

Chicago Tribune kittens

Chicago Tribune taken over by kittens – was the admin interface to blame?

The admin interface is the dashboard view for the internal users managing your site through a content management system (CMS). A fair amount of your website may be automated through feeds or ad servers, but odds are you still have a team to edit/add content or choose what to feature on the homepage. Spending the time to make this dashboard a user-friendly control center instead of a jargon-filled, out-of-the box system can improve productivity and reduce errors.

  1. Start by giving your developers a clear idea of how site admins will manage site content.¬†Who writes/curates the content? What’s the process for inputting the content, and for any proofing and approval? How often does existing content get updated, and how much new content comes in each day? How many site admins need different levels of access? The bottom line is that the technology must support human users, and not the other way around. An out-of-the-box system can adequately handle 90% of the use cases. But considering the amount of time your site managers spend each day inside the admin interface, small improvements can add up to big value.
  2. Volume matters. Make sure to test each aspect of the interface with the right amount of content. For each entry, make sure heads, subheads, and copy lengths approximate or are real ones. (For fun: read a good attack and defense of Lorem ipsum) Once you’ve populated the system with hundreds or even thousands of content items, is it still possible to quickly find a specific article or multimedia asset for an edit?
  3. Disable unnecessary features. Most CMS systems serve general audiences, and offer features and links you may never use. Developers are often loath to remove features because they may someday be useful. It’s important to push for showing only what is needed. Removing unnecessary options will make daily functions easier to find, and accelerate task completion.
  4. Enable workflow, but also workarounds. Enforce data validation, but be careful not to create processes so cumbersome that they slow down content entry. The workflow needs to be painless enough to ensure its adoption, and anticipate common use cases. But recognize that you can’t design for every content and staffing scenario, so leave some flexibility in the system. Examples might include a “nuke” button for a social media feed, or a way to override approvals for certain content types.
  5. Add your brand to the admin interface.¬†This interface is the home screen of the people who work in it. As much as is practical, make sure your organizational and site identities are reflected. The latter is particularly useful in seeing at a glance one site’s admin interface from another in organizations where admins may manage multiple sites.

Internal, task-oriented admin interfaces will never be the rockstars that public website designs are, but an infrequently updated site can often be tied directly to how damn hard it is to add or change content. Investing time in thinking through and designing a usable admin interface does more than make your internal users happy — it’s a strong predictor of a well-maintained public website.

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