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Applications where clients & contractors actions (such as odesk and elance) are displayed in the same dashboard can get confusing.

These sites sometimes overcome this by stating:

Click here to view result as a client

The problem is that at the very least the user has to spend a couple of extra seconds thinking whether they are viewing something as a client or contractor.

How can one clarify actions and labels when dealing with a user being able to act as two different user types in the same dashboard/application?

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2 Answers

If using only one form for two different roles is the must, and especially in the case, when you can't define primary and secondary roles, the common sense is to integrate some consistent "dividers" for different users, that will be stable idioms in the project.

It can be: color coding (every group has it's own colour of the background or buttons), positioning elements (left space is for freelancers, right - for clients) etc.

Any verbal elements (words like "client"/"contractor") and such small and complicated elements, as icons, are not good for distinguishing elements, because they really require to percept and recognize them in some appreciable time (from 0.5 to 3 seconds).

This will not make first interactions rather simple, but usually such applications are used for a long time, and the users soon will orient in such "landmarks" and will simply don't pay an attention to elements with "foreign" marks.

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A way to handle this would be to enable the user to login in as one of the two roles while logging in.Hence while logged in the user can act either as the client or contractor but not as both.

The system should however link the user login details to both ID's so that can shift between the interfaces as needed.

I do agree this does have the disadvantage of perhaps needing separate dashboards for the the client and the contractor (taking this case) but this can be resolved by keeping a common dashboard with clearly delinted modules or segments which are visible only depending on the current role.

Facebook does this fairly well by linking the the page login with the user login such that when an user logs in he can quickly switch to his personal page (e.g a photography page) and the interface is updated depending upon the switch.

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For me it is another example of solution of separation the related content. (as described by @Alex Ovi) Although, "Logout-login" action is, in this sense, a very strong "divider". –  Bartosz Rakowski Aug 9 '12 at 10:37
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