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I'm designing a website that is basically overloaded with information and I need to make a layout that will allow all the information to be taken in but with two restrictions:

  • I want a maximum of 3 clicks to get to even the deepest data-point (extremely hard with this much data)
  • I would prefer no duplicates of element types. By element types I mean I would prefer not to have a set of tabs where a user selects one and another pair of tabs appears.

I want to allow the user to be able to naturally offset in their mind what type of element controls what data-points. Additionally, because I know someone will ask, I must show the user all the data, it is a requirement.

The idea I have now takes the user about 4 clicks to get to the deepest data-point and utilizes Tabs (as the main structure), a left sidebar, which changes the right to a table structure in the form of a listing, then after clicking on a link in the listing an accordion replaces the table with groups of data.

Are there any better interface elements that could be better utilized that I'm not thinking of?. I don't want to overwhelm the user but in at the same time keep it clean and functional.

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2 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

I want a maximum of 3 clicks to get to even the deepest data-point

I have to say this even if it is kind of hard. What you want is not important - what your users want is all that matters. If your user find elements easier with seven clicks than three clicks - that's what you should implement.

That said - there are a number of navigation structures that matches your wish of less clicks. A popular one is the wide broad navigation which looks like the one you are implementing:

breadth and deep navigation structure

The characteristics of the broad navigation is that it is flat and you can design it to be on only three clicks to any element. The problem with it is that there will be a lot of elements for the user to scan through before clicking an element.

Go for the broad navigation if it suits your users needs. But you must support other styles to find information as well. That would be search and , since users pattern to find information goes on in several steps switching between regular navigation clicking and search (Morville, Polar Bear Book).

Polar Bear Book cover

Tagging information elements would help your search engine and help your users find related content of what they are currently reading. If you implement all these three techniques - you have a pretty good chance of making a success of your web site.

Good Luck!

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Thanks for the input, I'll take a look at the book. Search engines really don't matter in this case but I am working on a search feature. The site is internal only so bots can't access it, which is why I was trying to make it easier for the users to find content and why all the information is required. Perhaps I'll have to try a tag structure as well. –  ars265 May 19 '12 at 15:27
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@BennySkogberg excellent point on the number of clicks. You shouldn't ever limit yourself based on the number of clicks. I vehemently agree with the general thought of what Steve Krug notes in Don't Make Me Think: "It doesn't matter how many times I click as long as each click is a mindless unambiguous choice." –  GotDibbs May 19 '12 at 16:10
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@GotDibbs Oddly enough I just got finished reading that very book and it put things in a very different light. –  ars265 May 19 '12 at 18:26
    
@ars265 I just finished the 2nd edition a day or so ago as well and remember that chapter (4) pretty well. We may have different interpretations, but I took it as pretty clear that it didn't matter exactly how many clicks it took, but rather how hard each click is. I'm not saying 80 mindless clicks are better than 3 ones that require a bit of thought. Rather I think it is that if the process only takes one more click to lighten the user's cognitive load, that the new path shouldn't be thrown out just because of that one additional click. –  GotDibbs May 19 '12 at 18:35
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In the situation like yours what really helps is a search box with autocomplete feature. Because no matter how good you are at classifying things there can be only one sitemap that you will end up with. And no matter how well-thought-through it is, there will be people who won't understand it. Say, the DMV web-site, I cannot find anything there. However when I manage to get to the page, I see that it was pretty reasonably placed in the hierarchy of pages.

So my point is, in order to get to the data in one click, especially if the user knows what he is looking for, consider adding a big search textbox labeled "How can we help you?" on the front page.

This might not be a solution you are looking for, just an idea to think about.

UPDATE

Another things that helps a lot in navigating is a list of links to the related pages at every page. See, if I just red the list of required documents for passing the driver's license exam I might be interested in 1) knowing locations and hours 2) setting up an appointment 3) asking a question.

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Thanks for your input. I'm working on the search feature as well. –  ars265 May 19 '12 at 15:28
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