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I'm prototyping an application that manipulate complex object (4 tabs of settings, with a total of 30 different parameters). The software can suggest (by default value) almost all of theses parameter based on 4 important ones (The user can freely edit others parameters if he want to). I proposed to my boss to use a sort of wizard to force the user to configure the 4 important parameters before configure the rest, but he refused because the Wizard break the consistency of the application and is not fast to use (not suitable for advance user).

My question is: There are another solution than wizard to create a object with inter-parameter dependencies for the advanced user?

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When you say there are only "4 important parameters", are these parameters literally just simple settings? If so, a multi-stage wizard would certainly seem excessive. –  Matt Obee Sep 21 '12 at 13:42
    
These are simple because this is just some combo box. I grouped all these 4 settings in one step. But for the 26 others, many of them are complex and i want the user to be capable to configure them too. Sorry for the unclear question, but the software just suggest the set of configuration based on these 4 settings. –  Hoang Sep 21 '12 at 13:53
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4 Answers

I had a similar requirement for an application, with good defaults too.

What we did is present the 4 configurations in 4 different areas of the same window. In order to fit everything, each area only displays a textual summary of the configuration with a button to change this specific configuration.

This allows the user to scan every configuration at once, while still giving a one click away access for all modifications.

mockup

download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

Try not to be too verbose in the text (like I was in the mockup) but just represent the configuration as text, or rich text if available, but something tighter than a complete UI.

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How about showing the basic parameters by default and giving the user the option to expand each section to view the more advanced, optional settings?

mockup

download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

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Think of progressive disclosure.
At the beginning you ask the user to enter values for the four basic parameters.
When done the user signals it with a [done] button and the UI discloses the following step, below the first one that becomes locked, or is replaced by a report-like output-only bunch of data. Ideally, the choice of options displayed in the newly shown section depends on the options selected in the previous one.
You can continue disclosing options until after you are done.

Two comments:

  • This is logically like a wizard, only that instead of pages it discloses new sections below the previous ones, and
  • You don't need to include the independent configuration values in order to make the user fully configure the application if they don't need to. Just a link like configure more and let the user choose.
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Being explicit about the process might help the user understand and accept the ordering requirement.

If the ordering is a requirement to be enforced, when the user wants to to edit the settings, a modal dialog box could pop up and say "These 4 parameters must be set first and will effect how you can set the remaining 28 parameters". The user can modify the first 4 params and click "Next" to proceed or "Cancel" to back out of settings edit. So there will be only one modal to get through.

Alternatively you could do away with the modal and just have the 4 prerequisite settings at the top in their own section, but still have the explicit statement ("These 4 parameters...")

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