Let’s do a quick show of hands, virtually. How many of us like to think?….
No takers?…. Yeah, me neither.
Don’t get me wrong. Thinking and opposable thumbs are the two leading reasons mankind isn’t extinct yet. But thinking takes energy and time; and when you’re tired or under pressure, well, sometimes you just can’t.
That’s where user experience comes in. Even under stress, you intuitively know what to do without thinking too hard. A poor user experience can make things pretty rough. Let me give you a non-tech real-life example.
User experience in the great outdoors
This past winter, I took a three-day survival class out in the woods where I live. Temperatures reached 1 degree Fahrenheit at night with a pretty steady wind chill. I “slept” in a hole in the snow with two wool blankets. I was pretty close to death — hypothermic every night, food deprived, and dehydrated (my own fault for not putting in the work to melt snow into water). As if that wasn’t enough, I had to complete all my survival activities before it got dark (about 4:30pm).
What does this have to do with user experience? It’s pretty hard to keep track of your gear when you’re not in your right mind — like I did because I didn’t keep anything in self-contained modular bags; there’s probably still a Leatherman out there that I left behind. Turns out when you’re close to death and can’t think, simple tasks become extraordinarily hard. I had all the right gear and I knew how to use most of it properly; I just kept losing it.
That was an extreme situation that you’re probably not facing in your daily 9-5, but let’s see how it translates to tech.
User experience in the great observability platform
When you’re using an Observability platform like Instana, user experience can make a big difference. Likely you’re not food deprived, freezing to death, and dehydrated; but if you’re getting showered with alerts at 3am, your foggy brain is under pressure. Everything needs to be intuitive. I learned the hard way that everything I own and use needs to be like a paint by numbers kit. If the thing that I’m using — whether it’s a piece of software or survival gear — isn’t easy and intuitive to use, I might as well not even have it.
A platform that gives you tons of data is really only part of the story. A platform that gives you usable data — actionable data — is extremely effective. With that in mind, here are some examples of how Instana is designed with user experience in mind.
Give the most important information up front
At first glance, the first thing you see should serve up the information you need most. Clicking around to find information requires, that’s right, thought.
We’ve taken this rule to heart at Instana. That’s why our dashboard is based on the four golden signals of monitoring — traffic, saturation, errors, and latency — taken right from the Google SRE handbook. This provides an easy and — more importantly — standardized way to view a dashboard where everything that you need is right where you expect it to go. It’s simple, efficient, and effective.
Make the next step quick and easy
Even if the most relevant information is right in front of your face, getting to the next level can be a challenge if it’s not made super obvious. When you’re exhausted, under pressure, and have no time, this is extremely frustrating. So the ability to zoom into operations with the simple click of a mouse is another great piece of user experience.
This practice is not lost on us either. The Instana platform displays every piece of information in context to each other; so when a user clicks from one screen to another, she sees the most relevant data. For instance, from the Instana Infrastructure Map, a user can zoom down into a host, a pod, a container, or even an application, completely in context, all from one screen.
The information displayed on the above screenshot could very well be information that you could find elsewhere, but it’s about usability and organization. Remember the survival gear that I had and knew how to use, but was too disorganized? Having data in your Observability platform that isn’t organized and actionable is at best ineffective, and at worst completely useless. To that end, Instana serves up data organized and actionable.
Automate repeatable tasks
Finally, let’s talk about automation. Unless you’re performing some sort of custom transaction, you want things to just work. For instance, imagine I had been organized out in the snow, and the tools didn’t work. That would have been frustrating! (and maybe life threatening)
So let’s talk about Instna’s automation. Instana is an automated platform. Full stop. To install Instana, simply deploy an agent and the platform takes care of the rest. There’s no need to configure application-side code, or anything like that. The way to do this is slightly different depending on your host; but whatever host you use, Instana mostly follows the same automated process. To check out how Instana is deployed as a Docker container, check out this quick demo.
Considering that this is likely the most powerful example of user experience baked into the Insana platform, we could talk more about it. The problem with talking about an automated platform is that there’s nothing to talk about — plug it in, turn it on. That’s all there is to it, really.
I hope this little tutorial about user experience was helpful. Take a more critical eye to other applications you use, and consider whether they could be making your life easier. Or whether they could do more to save your life in the wilderness.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that I took all of the screenshots in this blog from our Instana Play-with app, a completely free interactive online demo environment complete with applications and data. Go play with it for yourself to check out Instana’s user experience. Admittedly I am biased, but I think Instana has all the right gear and knows how to make it usable and actionable. It costs you nothing, so go play!