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This is such a common issue and I'm running into it in many projects.

Let's suppose you have a system that tracks conferences:

  Conferences
     Venues -> Buildings -> Rooms
     Presentations
     Speakers

This is a hierarchy: Conferences aggregate Venues, Presentations, and Speakers. The problem I keep running into is that it is necessary to define a Conference from the bottom-up. In order to define a Conference, the Speakers, Presentations, and Venues must already be present. I believe most users are accustomed to thinking from the top-down, with the "root" object and working downwards.

So, my question:

What is your favorite way to solve this problem from a UI/UX perspective?

Some examples might be:

  • Tree views
  • "Create-in-place" where you can select an existing item OR create a new one
  • Wizard-style interfaces

What do you prefer?

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Highly subjective. –  ChrisF Aug 31 '10 at 19:16
3  
This will probably be closed unless you rephrase it by removing the "your favorite" part of the question. –  Rahul Aug 31 '10 at 19:35
    
@ChrisF: I've made this a wiki. I'm curious, however: UI/UX is a highly subjective field. There are few, if any, scientifically verifiable criteria for success or correctness. How can questions on this site NOT tend towards the subjective? –  Dave Swersky Sep 1 '10 at 16:53
    
it's the word "best". You even get a warning about it when you use it in question title. Also making a question CW doesn't make it any less subjective. If you can describe your problem without using "best" or "favourite" then it would be OK. –  ChrisF Sep 1 '10 at 19:54
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2 Answers 2

I think that part of your design straightjacket is your statement that "In order to define a Conference, the Speakers, Presentations, and Venues must already be present."

Why? In fact, you state it yourself: "I believe most users are accustomed to thinking...". Why go against the grain?

Instead, how about letting them create the conference, and then add speakers, presentations, and venues as that information becomes available. Limit what the user can do if some information is missing, e.g. they can't "go live" with the conference until all the necessary pieces are in place.

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I think it really depends on what you want your system to do. Tree views are definitely a tried and tested way to quickly view hierarchical data and wizards are a great solution when you want to walk the user through a multi-step process of some sort.

So then the question becomes, what user tasks are you trying facilitate? Is the system one where users will just be viewing conference data? Then maybe a tree view or something similar is the way to go. On the other hand, if the system is meant to facilitate quickly adding/editing conference information, then you might want to look at a wizard-based interface or something similar. Do you need to do both? Then you might want to look at a combination of UIs: one for making adding/editing conferences easy and another to make viewing conference information easy.

In other words, it's not about what's the best/worst way to view the data, but rather what's the best way to help your user accomplish their tasks, as all three of your suggestions have specific areas where they're better suited than the others.

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