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I am creating a UI where a user can manage users by creating a group, and then dragging and dropping them to fill the groups as they would like. One problem I am faced with is that the complexity of the users is a series of drill downs in order to easily manage. Is it recommended to use Drag n Drop UI controls on web apps? Specifically for managing users/students? It seems it would be the most sufficient, given that I present the drag n drop UI in the right context.

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Maybe the interface for managing circles on Google Plus works for you too? –  greenforest Jun 14 '12 at 19:21
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Not wanting to be 'that guy' again, but drag and drop isn't usable for keyboard users so you really need to have an alternative way of doing this. Sure, keep with Drag and Drop for those who can use it, but make sure you offer an accessible option for those people who need it too. Don't discount those users, they are a valuable audience. –  JonW Jun 14 '12 at 20:03
    
Hey Jon, Believe me I always make sure that there is an accessibly way! This product actually may involve possible BVI users, so I have some consultants to work out screen reader analysis. –  Kyle Mirro Jun 15 '12 at 12:35
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3 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

If you are talking about thousands of users in a hierarchical structure, then it's quite likely that drag and drop is not the best interface. Drag and drop works best when most of your choices can fit on the screen at one time.

Specifically, if your interaction goes like this, drag and drop is working well: Drag, drop, drag, drop, drag, drop, drag, drop.

But if a typical user interaction is more like this, then drag and drop is likely not your best choice: Search, drag, drop, search, drag, drop, search, drag, drop, search, drag, drop.

The reason is because the user is likely switching from keyboard to mouse and back over and over... they go to the keyboard to search for the next user, then back to the mouse to drag and drop. This makes the interaction more clumsy, rather than less.

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Very interesting insight. What if the interaction were more of scrolling then searching? So picking from a list for example. The mouse acts as a navigation and an action to drag and drop. Of coarse you can not predict that they will always scroll and not search, but it's a thought. –  Kyle Mirro Jun 15 '12 at 12:38
    
@chester: Scrolling is very painful with drag and drop. Personally, within a file system, I will usually use copy/paste instead of drag/drop if my folders are too large to navigate without scrolling. –  Brian Oct 4 '12 at 17:13
    
I have to say, this is a good consideration, but does not rule out drag and drop for this kind of action. As @chester comments, If moving the whole list, clicking the first item, scrolling to the bottom and shift clicking the last item allows me to move all 1000 at the same time with out taking my hand off the mouse (assuming you use your second hand to hold shift). Additionally, you may want to provide keyboard short cuts to move for those who want to stick to keyboard (or must due to accessibility reasons) which must go through a less optimized flow for selecting the folder to move them to –  Chris Janssen Oct 4 '12 at 17:16
    
@Brian How do you figure it is painful? This is the design for Linux, Windows, and Mac OS file systems. It may be painful to drag and then go to the bottom of the folder side to scroll and find the folder you want. But this usually leads users find their target before starting the drag. Mac OS improved (then took away) the spring loaded folders to deal with this issue as well. –  Chris Janssen Oct 4 '12 at 17:19
    
To add to my previous comment, adding a filter, greatly improves this interaction (when moving bulk users that share a common search filter). ie. say I want to move all the students that were Juniors to a group for Seniors. I could filter on "is Junior" shift click, and move all of them at once to the new location. Additionally filtering the folder side as well would allow me to quickly find the target I want without scrolling. What it comes down to, is that as the system gets larger, you need more than single drag and additional controls to make bulk movement as easy as moving one item. –  Chris Janssen Oct 4 '12 at 17:21
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Drag and drop can be a very useful method for managing groups of users/items. The main advantage that I always find when using an application that has a drag and drop UI is that I actually feel like I am managing the groups, and not just telling something to move them for me.

I can't see anything wrong with using a drag and drop UI in this case. The only thing that you may want to be careful of is lag in the dragging process which can drastically decrease the users feeling of control.

I also found an article that you might find interesting, when to use drag & drop. It is a bit old (2006), but it makes some good points. The main premise of the article was the test of groups of people using two different file management styles (Drag n' Drop and Traditional click selecting). The users found the drag and drop method have more of a "fun" factor and enjoyed this method much more, but then found "click to select and move" to be more functional. One thing that has to be considered is that this article is old and before the advent of touch devices. Over the years I would argue that users have become more accustomed to drag and drop.

(Ex. Drag and snap windows, Slide to unlock, touch screens in general)

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+1 good article reference :) Thanks! –  Anna Rouben Oct 4 '12 at 17:13
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We implemented drag and drop of features into a component and I think it is very powerful. Personally, I find myself using drag and drop much more than doing the same with the wizards. You could also consider allowing users to select multiple items to drag and drop. This will allow accomplishing bulk operations at once. If you have a lot of data, dragging and dropping support might require additional scrollbars (not ideal) since the user would need to be able to view there areas for the drop. Keeping the drop area bigger improves ease of use too; let's say if you have a group window open, allowing users to drop users anywhere in the group (not just into a list of users) area makes it easier because it minimizes the distance the user has to travel with the mouse.

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