Best practice: hiding groups of widgets within a complex form?

13 Jun 2007 - 4:24pm
7 years ago
5 replies
924 reads
DrWex
2006

I'm trying to figure out how to give people a way to simplify a
visually complex form. This is a PC desktop application, not Web, and
I don't have the option to break the form apart.

Current technology is something like an enhanced group box
(http://developer.kde.org/language-bindings/ruby/colortooltutorial/dialog3grpbox.png)
with a button-like target in the corner (like a + or open/close
chevron) that would collapse related groups of widgets, or shrink the
area in some way.

I haven't seen any good examples of UIs that do this, or design
patterns I could look at for inspiration. Anyone got any thoughts?

--
--Alan Wexelblat

Comments

13 Jun 2007 - 5:59pm
Alexander Baxevanis
2007

I guess you may have already thought of this but let's take a step
back: why would users need to "simplify" the form? I suppose by
simplify you mean to selectively hide some parts of the form that are
not relevant to a particular user. If this is the case, is there
really no other way to hide the irrelevant parts automatically
(according to the user type/preferences etc.)? Or, if there are
interdependencies between the form parts (e.g. part C needs to be
filled in only if the user has selected something in Part B) then you
may want to look at the "Responsive Disclosure" Pattern:

http://designinginterfaces.com/Responsive_Disclosure

On 6/13/07, Alan Wexelblat <awexelblat at gmail.com> wrote:
> I'm trying to figure out how to give people a way to simplify a
> visually complex form. This is a PC desktop application, not Web, and
> I don't have the option to break the form apart.
>
> Current technology is something like an enhanced group box
> (http://developer.kde.org/language-bindings/ruby/colortooltutorial/dialog3grpbox.png)
> with a button-like target in the corner (like a + or open/close
> chevron) that would collapse related groups of widgets, or shrink the
> area in some way.
>
> I haven't seen any good examples of UIs that do this, or design
> patterns I could look at for inspiration. Anyone got any thoughts?
>
> --
> --Alan Wexelblat
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14 Jun 2007 - 6:10am
Chauncey Wilson
2007

Alan,

What is the frequency of use of this form (based on prior data or expected
usage)? Will it be used many times an hour, many times a day, a few times a
week, once a month, at random intervals (like the forms occasional travelers
have to fill out for reimbursement)? Could you give us a primary usage
scenario without divulging any trade secrets? Do you have any required
fields on this form or any interdependencies as Alexander mentioned)? How
complex is the form - how many total controls? How many controls in the
groups that you propose? Do you have a mixture of controls or is your form
primarily one of text fields? Will your users be a stable group or will
there be a lot of turnover? Will you open the entire form by default so
users can see everything? Before suggesting design possibilities, it would
help to have a bit more background.
Chauncey

On 6/13/07, Alan Wexelblat <awexelblat at gmail.com> wrote:
>
> I'm trying to figure out how to give people a way to simplify a
> visually complex form. This is a PC desktop application, not Web, and
> I don't have the option to break the form apart.
>
> Current technology is something like an enhanced group box
> (
> http://developer.kde.org/language-bindings/ruby/colortooltutorial/dialog3grpbox.png
> )
> with a button-like target in the corner (like a + or open/close
> chevron) that would collapse related groups of widgets, or shrink the
> area in some way.
>
> I haven't seen any good examples of UIs that do this, or design
> patterns I could look at for inspiration. Anyone got any thoughts?
>
>

14 Jun 2007 - 9:13am
DrWex
2006

The form is used in a bursty fashion. Users will use it many times a
day for several days or a couple weeks, then not at all for some time.
Basically, the form captures a complex requirements document that's
internally generated by the customer in unstructured text. The
application form is an encoding of that verbal requirement into
something the system can process. A typical customer will end up with
thousands or even tens of thousands of these captured rules.

A complete revamp of the form into a progressive or step-wise design
is not feasible, partly for political and inertia reasons and partly
because there's no global process for how this encoding happens.
Since the requirements document is written differently at each
customer site we can't impose a linear process on the capture screen.

The form is moderately complex, about 25 mixed controls that are
always visible and another 5-10 that are drawn if the user selects
certain values in the visible controls. There are many required
fields and the form is grouped into logical relations. One area is
"describe this thing"; another is "write the expression for this
thing"; a third is "set conditions for use of this thing.

User turnover varies by customer. Some are extremely stable, some
change rapidly.

Hope that helps,
--Alan

On 6/14/07, Chauncey Wilson <chauncey.wilson at gmail.com> wrote:
>
> Alan,
>
> What is the frequency of use of this form (based on prior data or expected
> usage)? Will it be used many times an hour, many times a day, a few times a
> week, once a month, at random intervals (like the forms occasional travelers
> have to fill out for reimbursement)? Could you give us a primary usage
> scenario without divulging any trade secrets? Do you have any required
> fields on this form or any interdependencies as Alexander mentioned)? How
> complex is the form - how many total controls? How many controls in the
> groups that you propose? Do you have a mixture of controls or is your form
> primarily one of text fields? Will your users be a stable group or will
> there be a lot of turnover? Will you open the entire form by default so
> users can see everything? Before suggesting design possibilities, it would
> help to have a bit more background.
>
> Chauncey
>
>
>
> On 6/13/07, Alan Wexelblat <awexelblat at gmail.com> wrote:
> > I'm trying to figure out how to give people a way to simplify a
> > visually complex form. This is a PC desktop application, not Web, and
> > I don't have the option to break the form apart.
> >
> > Current technology is something like an enhanced group box
> > (
> http://developer.kde.org/language-bindings/ruby/colortooltutorial/dialog3grpbox.png)
> > with a button-like target in the corner (like a + or open/close
> > chevron) that would collapse related groups of widgets, or shrink the
> > area in some way.
> >
> > I haven't seen any good examples of UIs that do this, or design
> > patterns I could look at for inspiration. Anyone got any thoughts?
> >
> >
>

--
--Alan Wexelblat

14 Jun 2007 - 11:56am
Pawson, Mark
2007

Given the various reasons as to why you cannot use a responsive
disclosure pattern or revamp, can you provide the ability for the
user to save their own template of how they like to use the form? It
sounds to me that everyone will have to be exposed to the complexity
that you are trying to hide at least once, learn what they need and
then customize and save their own template. Or you could skip the
template saving and "give the system a memory" so the next time
they use it only the controls they used last time are shown. However,
ensure you provide a defaults button because if they are burst users,
they will probably forget how they used it last and wonder why the
form doesn't offer some functionality that it should. We have used a
combination of templates and "system memory" in some of our complex
desktop apps.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://beta.ixda.org/discuss?post=17266

26 Jun 2007 - 2:12am
Bill Fernandez
2007

Assuming that all users need to at have all fields available to them
(which would prevent you from showing fewer fields based upon the
current user), one approach I often use is to divide the form into
logical sections, place each section on a separate, tabbed panel, and
label the tabs something like "Step 1", Step 2", etc.

Would that work for you?

--Bill Fernandez

At 5:24 PM -0400 6/13/07, Alan Wexelblat wrote:
>I'm trying to figure out how to give people a way to simplify a
>visually complex form. This is a PC desktop application, not Web, and
>I don't have the option to break the form apart.
>
>Current technology is something like an enhanced group box
>(http://developer.kde.org/language-bindings/ruby/colortooltutorial/dialog3grpbox.png)
>with a button-like target in the corner (like a + or open/close
>chevron) that would collapse related groups of widgets, or shrink the
>area in some way.
>
>I haven't seen any good examples of UIs that do this, or design
>patterns I could look at for inspiration. Anyone got any thoughts?

--

======================================================================
Bill Fernandez * User Interface Architect * Bill Fernandez Design

(505) 346-3080 * bf_list1 AT billfernandez DOT com *
http://billfernandez.com
======================================================================

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