Over the past few days, I’ve spent some time doing a deep dive into the Unified Client Interface – it seems like most people have now settled on calling it UCI. I have been trying to work out some ‘better practices’ for user centered design, with the aim of improving user adoption for those users inclined, or perhaps directed, to use it.
Microsoft are clearly working towards a User Centered design through the very fact that the new interface exists and the principles they have implemented so far. Ultimately though, the user experience will be as good or bad as the decisions you make when, as a Dynamics customiser or partner, you configure it.
Keep it Simple
One of the great benefits of the new Dynamics 365 Unified Interface – and model driven PowerApps in general – is that they are likely to end up ‘less busy’ than the old Dynamics 365 web client. This is because when you build an Dynamics 365 app, you are forced to think about what you need to include. It’s a blank canvas. If you create a new app, you should always carefully select the views, forms and dashboards that the users for that app really need. If you combine that configuration with a policy of least privilege security roles, you should end up with an easy to navigate application – clean menus, clean sitemaps, uncluttered command bars. Users should only see the buttons they need to see, so additionally, get familiar with the Ribbon Workbench and you can strip the application back even further.
This approach is very likely to create a simple path for new users to learn, where they will embrace the screens and application flow. The one thing the UCI is missing however is what I would term a ‘Home Page’ – a launch pad for the main application. Sure, there are dashboards and views of contacts which may seem like a nice place to start for some, but sometimes a simple web page based solution is best.
Users can no longer select their home page in the Unified Interface through Dynamics 365 settings. In many scenarios, this might be a good thing because as designers, we can now direct all users to an initial page by adding a web resource as the first element in the site map.
Why might you do this? Well, it could be an initial training page, or a ‘How To’ page. It could even be something business specific, such as a company logo to enforce branding. From a functional point of view, there are benefits in having a launchpad page of quick links that allow users to deep link to certain Dynamics areas from a single page.
Web Resources in the Site Map
So continuing my adventure, I started adding links to web resources to the sitemap. The fact that the left menu bar now is always displayed and that clicking different icons doesn’t force a full page re-load provides for a really slick user experience. Maybe it’s just me, but my perception with UCI is that the caching of each site map element is much better than in the web interface.
Generic Vector Icons
One thing I have always been a stickler for is attention to detail. My pet peeve with any interface is having generic icons, inconsistently styled icons, or having icons that don’t reflect what their function is. When I first added links to different web resources in the Site Map, each link was allocated a generic icon. This icon was not editable in the App Designer or in the XRM Toolbox site-map editor.
I noted with interest recently CRM Tip of the Day 1131, which showed me how to update the Area Vector Icon in the site map to get rid of the generic jigsaw puzzle piece. Checking the SiteMapType.xsd schema, I noticed the same ‘VectorIcon’ attribute can be applied to Groups and SubAreas as well as Areas. After updating the SiteMap XML manually, hey presto, I have a nice unique ‘Home’ icon for my web resource again.
The end result is a ‘Home’ page like this :
Basic Unified Client Interface with Simple Home Page and ALL custom icons
Is there a moral to this story? Here’s a few take aways I have:
- The application site map editor is still a bit rough around the edges, but the underlying UCI platform provides a great foundation for user centric app development.
- Lets hope Tangay picks up the Group and SubArea VectorIcon attributeand applies it to the XRM Toolbox Site Map editor in the same way he did for the Area attribute.
- Better still, lets hope the vector icon attribute makes it into the full App designer in the October 2018 release.
- Don’t be sloppy when adding elements to the sitemap, take the extra 30 minutes and get the icons right.
- Consider a launch page for your UCI application. You can host fonts and styling as web resources too. You can use the new Xrm.Navigation APIs to help users perform functions with a minimal number of clicks or taps.
- Strip back user roles to the most basic functions to reduce clutter on your command bar. There are some buttons that are trickier to remove than others. Wouldn’t it be great if we had the ability to specify command bar buttons in an app too?