Sam Tuke
Mar 30 2020

New interface prototyping

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New interface prototyping

Sam Tuke Mar 30 2020 Share

For over a month we’ve been interviewing Lightmeter users each week to understand their needs, and best prioritise features. Rudolf has produced dozens of wireframes and click prototype iterations exploring and refining UI concepts.

Screenshot of a recent prototype of Lightmeter Control Center (Desktop Web UI)
Screenshot of a recent prototype of Lightmeter Control Center (Desktop Web UI)

Guiding principles

Most existing infrastructure monitoring interfaces, including the original Lightmeter prototype, take an information dashboard approach to communicate systems’ status. While dashboards are traditional and familiar, we’re working to avoid them. Here’s why.

Dashboards:

  • Pack a lot of different types and sources of information into a small space
  • Typically rely on charts, which by their nature are hard to interpret
  • Typically lack context. The relationship to norms and expectations is obscure.
  • Frequently lack analysis and conclusions. Required action is unclear.

These factors make dashboards hard work to use and benefit from. Most of the work must be done by the viewer: to pick out what’s relevant, recognise deviation form good operation, and decide how to act in response.

Extensive experience with both the underlying systems, and the metrics and dashboard themselves, are required in order to do these things effectively. Dashboard which are highly configurable, for example with drag-and-drop placement, in most cases only add to the complexity and inconsistency between users and views.

Lightmeter’s goal is to make mail servers accessible and easy to operate. This requires more than merely in collecting data into a single location. We need to make derive meaning from the data, and provide effective recommended actions.

To this end, graphs and must serve the higher goal of communicating the meaning of the server’s behaviour. What you must to do to get mail delivered is more important than knowing what has happened — both these views of events should be accessible, but the former should be prioritised.

Guiding rules

To resist the temptation of regressing back towards a traditional dashboard interface, we established some simple UI rules derived from the above principles:

  • Refer to interfaces not dashboards (“If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought” — Orwell)
  • Graphs must follow interpretation and context (never draw the eye to a graph before its meaning has been stated)
  • Prioritise insights over data (data is a means to an end; provide the value of the endpoint directly)

Current status

Our weekly interviews with early adopters is helping to develop an understanding of their needs and how they map with use-cases and profiles. This includes guiding questions around granularity and frequency of updates and notifications, and what size network Lightmeter should be able to monitor.

As reported in the last development update, work on the backend is going well and soon front-end work will start bringing the prototypes to life, depending on project resources and Open Source contributors.

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