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I am all for providing flexibility for users in their interface, because I know that users are different, and want to find things and process things in different ways. This is especially the case when the application is providing a service, product or facility.

The application I am currently working on, however, is a process-based work environment application. Its purpose is to enable and monitor a specific process workflow to achieve a successful task. I should point out that the UX would make most UX peoples skin crawl right off their body, something that is not entirely within their control (client demands putting restrictions on the possibilities). However in this scenario, I would rather see a more rigorous approach to requiring processes to be done in a specific way, because this is management of a workflow.

There seems to be a view that, while the core workflow processing is restricted and rigid, within that, there is a desire to do all sorts of things 2 or 3 ways, not out of a sense of user flexibility, but because "it is a mouse click less". The cost is more maintenance if and when things ever change. The core code does not, as a whole, lend itself to easy adaptability - just one of its issues.

Question - is it right or acceptable within a workflow process to require individual processes to be performed in a particular way? Given that the application is about managing a rigid process, surely enforcing this is valid in this case? Especially as the users will quickly get used to the way of doing things - it is not like I am making thinks complex, just wanting to enforce a process path.

As an example for comparison, most e-commerce sites enforce a process path for a checkout, even though the catalogue search is/should be free and flexible. The checkout process needs to be rigorously enforced to ensure that the right details are obtained to get the pricing correct, and deliver the item or service.

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3 Answers 3

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Sometimes providing multiple ways to do the same thing is a sign that we don't really understand the user.

But if you DO have a good understanding of the user and the path/s they need to take the decision and justification should be made easier. You have the tools required. 'Making the solution as simple as possible, but not simpler' means knowing when a little more complexity is appropriate.

Also, to mangle a common expression. The user is not ALWAYS right. Sometimes you really do need to enforce a defined process. The role of UX in this case is not necessarily to react and give the user what they want. But make the required experience as good as possible.

Ultimately the goal is to create a system and conditions by which the user can perform the desired task effectively (consequential factor), efficiently (effort factor) and with satisfaction (emotional factor).

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Wizards (e.g. [1] [2]) provide a pattern for guiding users through ordered steps.

However, you have to let the user go back and correct inputs in previous steps and maintain as much as the inputs as possible when going forward after going back.

If the wizard is implemented as a website, it is important that information doesn't get lost if the user accidently closes the window or goes to another site. (Store information even prior to submitting (to end of process) using cookie or better yet in your DB if user is logged in.)

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I don't think that there is anything wrong with directing a user down a certain path. In fact with items such as forms, I don't really know too many people that care how much choice they have in a form as long as it gets the job done.

The thing that you have to be wary of is restricting a user too much to the point that they feel like you are trying to tell them what to do and how to do it, especially if they have a strong opinion on how to manage a workflow.

So the challenge is to provide a service where the user doesn't have to think too much about the process but still has the ability to move freely if they so choose.

Also you might find an article from UXmag on guiding user decision with salience useful.

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