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I have a very big financial form of a budget, where it has lot of information spread across months of a year or future years. To just give you guys some background, budget is created for every year and will be having different kinds of funding sources like expense, capital, OPEX's

The way i have designed the form is, have the months as columns and show different funding sources(i.e expense, capital,..etc) related info as the rows. But the problem here, these expense/capital has sub levels within each level, which actually rolls-up to the top and gives the total amount. And when the user opens all the sublevels of the forms, it looks really really complex and takes quite bit of time to locate where the user needs to focus on.

Each funding source will have similiar financial form which i am handling using (4)tabs

I am trying to simplify the design of the form, by showing only the current month info and then showing remaining months but user needs to see all the months to observe the trending on how they have allocated/spent the budget for given entity.

I know this is a tricky question, but i am posting here to understand your viewpoints on how you would be approaching or solving the problem.

Finance form in Excel
http://www.flickr.com/photos/58052028@N00/6504738321/in/photostream/lightbox/

Financial forms of each funding type added in tabs http://www.flickr.com/photos/58052028@N00/6504738529/in/photostream/lightbox/

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1 Answer

up vote 3 down vote accepted

This doesn't sound like a form per se, more spreadsheet type app, and without knowing more:

Before you start doing anything you need access to user research that tells you how information is manipulated and what mental models a user has of the system, how s/he performs calculations etc. I dare say you could start grouping things into individual months but you say users need to compare data between months, so right here you have some conept of how the user works; do you have access to more data like this?

Another problem you have is that there is lots of data possibly useful but when displayed at once clog up the interface, right?

With the latter there are general rules for form design I posted here some months ago which you would do well to follow:

"A good place to start is Luke Wroblewski and his various writings on form design

eg http://www.lukew.com/presos/preso.asp?22

But to add: From my experience building hundreds of forms, I can recommend the following:

  1. Minimise the number of fields in the system. This might require a bit of to and fro between you and the business analyst + a little bit extra user research but you'll be amazed at how many superfluous fields there might be.
  2. Clear path to completion: arrange fields and field descriptions in a way that the eye is led down the screen to the call to action buttons.
  3. If there are compulsory fields mark them clearly.
  4. Validate fields as the user types not after submit; offer in-line instructions
  5. If you have a stack of fields, either tab them into discrete sections (like you indicate) or walk the user through a sequence of pages to final completion. edit: tabs won't work for sequential information or when there is compulsory information in each tab. It is a good approach, I have found, for containing different types of content in a system that the user updates or uses over a period of time.
  6. Progressive disclosure. I allude to this is in 5). This is a way of avoiding cognitive burden or information overload. Put simply, present information in a series of simple steps instead of one big whole.
  7. Break up longer forms into visually distinct regions. This allows you to group slightly different field sets together and will help the user build a mental model of the system, it is also a way of giving the impression that the system is less burdensome than it really is (again, this could be argued to be a type of progressive disclosure). "

Final word: You need access to more data re how users work with the data. A spot of ethnographic research might not be a bad idea in this case.

ps: can you improve the screen caps? not very clear.

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Thanks for the reply, this is not a spreadsheet app. At the moment the users are maintaining finance form in spreadsheet and now made that into a webapp. I don't have much pointers on the user research at this point and i haven't done any user research as well. I just took the excel as a reference and created a web form which is not a good approach which i understand. Having went in that approach, it clogged the entire UI and increased page load while the user working on the page. Can you help me with some references on ethnographic research..? BTW, i have updated images on flickr –  Ravi Dec 13 '11 at 12:28
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see this thread: ux.stackexchange.com/questions/4888/tips-for-ethnography –  colmcq Dec 13 '11 at 13:55
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