The Teeter-Totter of GUI Complexity

The Teeter-Totter of GUI Complexity

By CWNP On 01/18/2010 - 6 Comments

All vendors must address a problem that I like to call the teeter-totter of GUI complexity. OK, so I just made that up, but here’s the gist. First, their solution should offer feature richness. Reaching the broadest possible customer market means having the most flexible configuration choices, right? Conversely, keeping customers happy and minimizing confusion means that GUI simplicity must be maximized. Impossibly complex interfaces are bad. Flexibility goes up, simplicity goes down. Simplicity goes up, flexibility goes down. Teeter. Totter.

Enterprise WLAN solutions run the gamut in GUI complexity. Some have long learning curves with inexhaustible feature sets and configuration options. Others have short learning curves with feature sets that leave you asking “that’s it?”

My initial instinct is always to ask for more features, even at the risk of added complexity. Over time, I’ll make my way through the labyrinth and come out the other side with relative confidence in my ability to configure the product. The drawback with too few configuration options is that you potentially miss a target customer by lacking certain functions.

So, relating to this topic, I have just a few quick thoughts. A few of the vendors with the most complex GUIs also have very fine control of policies. Once I wrap my head around the way one policy relates to another and how they interact, this configuration method is really pretty nice—it also typically has a rich security component…nice for user-based control and firewalls. It’s complex, but it is the most flexible approach. There’s a basic litmus test that could help vendors identify a problematic GUI: if the configuration flowchart—or web diagram—looks scary, the GUI may be too complex.

Now, to contradict myself entirely from the previous paragraph, I wonder just how many customers use all of these features and how many administrators are exhausted from feature fatigue. For administrators that manage all network components in an SMB or SME, extensive configuration options are absolute overkill and probably a turn off. That’s why I’m a fan of hiding advanced features behind tabs or expandable + signs—I’m sure there’s an official name for those. So, if I worked at a vendor, I’d poll the customers who represent the target audience and find out what they use, what they want, and what they don’t want. Then I’d hide all the superfluous stuff behind something labeled “advanced.” Then I’d make a wizard. Personally, I really dislike using wizards of any kind, but I’m not a customer.

I realize that GUI complexity is a somewhat common topic here at CWNP. There are plenty of other things that are more important (IMHO), but a clean GUI is nice. We’re accustomed to telling you what we think, but I’d like to get your thoughts on GUI arrangements that you like. Do you want more configuration options or less? Who, in your opinion, has a nice balance of feature richness as well as GUI organization?

Blog Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within these blog posts are solely the author’s and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the Certitrek, CWNP or its affiliates.

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