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Following on from my last question, we're working on a UX design for an application. Once logged in, the user is confronted with a dashboard, something in a similar vein to this; just more complex and prettier - simply it's a dashboard of widgets that display all different sorts of information from all different areas of the application (picture this as a top level, it's a really complex job).

How would I go about determining what would be the optimum number of widgets to display to my users?

Enough to fill the top viewport? So 9 or 10, maybe more?

Are there other cogsci or usability factors to consider?

I know this might be an opinion based thing as well, but I would really appreciate any sources and reading material that is related to this too as it allows me to pitch better to the client when they ask my reasoning behind why I need to limit the amount of widgets they are allowed to display.

I'm doing my research too, just wondered if anyone here has had this problem before.

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Whatever the magic number is, it's certainly NOT 7±2. –  JonW Mar 20 '12 at 13:29
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You'll know it when you see it. Balance can't be quantified. –  dnbrv Mar 20 '12 at 13:35
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Your question, as originally phrased, was skating on thin ice towards being too localized to your specific application, and also too invitational to subjective opinion answers. I've edited it to hopefully elicit more objective, constructive, and generally applicable answers. Hope you don't mind. –  Erics Mar 20 '12 at 15:43
    
Nope, thats fine Erics, thanks :-) –  Joshua M Mar 20 '12 at 16:49
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1 Answer

up vote 2 down vote accepted

User testing is the only way to answer this question. Specifically, I would make some realistic page examples and poll your user-base to see what they like.

EDIT: As a general rule, though, I would agree that filling the viewport above the fold (if there is one) is probably a good idea.

I'm a developer and I find the default Google Analytics dashboard positively naked; I showed this to my father, and he found it impossibly busy.

Google Analytics dashboard

(image taken from my alma mater):

There is an easy way around the problem, though: allow the user to customize what they see. That way it will at least always approach the range they're most comfortable with. You just need to design your widgets sensibly, balancing how much information you want to put on a single widget given its role: the more atomic the widgets, the more widgets you will need.

EDIT 2: Are you planning on deploying to mobile platforms? If so, the design of your mobile layout may help to inform the design of your desktop layout. Presumably the mobile dashboard, if any, would be more restrictive due to lack of available screen real estate, but if you can "get away with" X minimum widgets, perhaps a similar number on your desktop would also be appropriate.

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Hi msanford. User testing, unfortunately, isn't a viable option at the current moment in time due to the fact the application in question has been developed about as much as we have designed (i.e. not much). It's essentially an architecture at the moment. We know what needs to be made, though content and product have not been turned around to allow us to do usability tests (which is a real bummer, I know). Also, user customisation is an option, thats one of their key ideas; but there needs to be a start point to allow the user to customise from. –  Joshua M Mar 20 '12 at 14:23
    
@JoshuaM Fair enough. I re-thought my answer with the potential for this solution and added the part about the viewport. I agree that a viable starting point is filling the viewport, and at that, with three columns of widgets (it seems to be an accepted standard -- though only anecdotal and from personal experience.) See edit 2 (which I'm about to make). –  msanford Mar 20 '12 at 15:28
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