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I'm working on a mobile app for android and iOS that lets you manage sports teams. You can follow any team, but can only manage those your account is associated with (You're the coach, for example)

Right now I have a blue background if you're a regular user, and have turned it red if you're an admin. I doesn't feel like enough though.

Apart from putting (Admin) in the title bar, how could this be better represented? Is there a universally recognizable icon for "authorized?" Maybe an unlocked lock?

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An icon is a tiny part of the administrators experience.

Generally speaking admin users have greater responsibility and more available actions than general users so the communication that they are signed in as admin users should be throughout the user interface. In this case an icon is less relevant and could even be wasted space.

For example, an admin user will have more menu items available. They might have a user moderation page and a user verification page. The availability and visibility of these menu items communicates their privilege. Likewise, they might receive messages normal users wouldn't, such as support requests. You could mark these messages in some way that would also help communicate privilege. YOu will often find that most pages can be enhanced to facilitate the job of an admin and this is a better way of letting them know who they are signed in as

This list goes on and in your specific case there will be other examples of how you can use the whole interface to communicate privilege. In the case of a sports team I would imagine there could be special options for deciding on who plays, keeping tabs on desired players from elsewhere, communicating with current players and keeping an eye on those who follow your team. All of these would be unique screens and extra navigation items which would themselves communicate the current privilege.

Another way you could reinforce this would be by using a home button. For a regular user this would just list the followed stream, for an anonymous user this might show an overview and calls to action to join, but for a signed in admin it could show a more complex, specially designed dashboard. Users are used to going home in apps and do it frequently, so this sort of considered redirect would also help communicate privilege

  • Part of the issue is that a coach of one team can be and often is a follower of several others. Home in this case is a list of teams. – evandentremont Feb 26 '15 at 20:19
  • @evandentremont that's kind of my point, for the signed in admin user home could actually be something more valuable to them than just a list of followed teams (which would be more a normal users home) – Toni Leigh Feb 26 '15 at 20:33
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Several organizations I've worked for used icons to represent the admin section but these icons cannot be considered to be "universally recognized" in any way. What is important is that you give the user a visual clue that they are in a different section. On first blush the different colored background (plus text that states "Admin") is more than enough.

You could add a transition as the user goes from team member to admin status and back again to team member but beware - hitting the user over the head can be as disruptive to the user experience as not giving enough information.

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With the prevalence of metro, flat, and material design UI, color is no longer a good indication of status or function, because these frameworks use color very differently, with very little consistency between different applications.

So users tune out the relationship between color and function more now than they used to.

So for something like admin status, I would recommend making it explicit. Use the red background if you want, but I think it's important to have an explicit indicator of admin status.

For mobile interfaces, space is usually a premium so an icon is usually a decent way of indicating admin status. You can use a lock icon if it isn't used elsewhere in the app, or a key icon. For the vast majority of apps, admin users are experts so it almost doesn't matter what icon you use so long as it isn't used for other purposes and it's clear.

  • Admin users in this case are sports coaches. I'd say their "tech expertise" is average to below average. – evandentremont Feb 26 '15 at 19:28
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    @evandentremont ah got it. In this case I woukd strengthen the argument around making the status explicit, and it does increase the need to have a more communicative icon (or caption if you use text) – tohster Feb 26 '15 at 19:33

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