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When the user enters some tags, should we sort them alphabetically the next time (s)he visits the page or should we preserve their original order?

There is no domain context in which these tags are used, so I am looking for the general rule of thumb here..

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Unfortunately, there are no 'general rules of thumb' in user experience design - you must always tailor the design to the needs of the context.

So, for your query, both choices could be relevant:

  • Preserving the user's order could be useful if the user will be quickly moving back and forth from the page and needs to find a worked-on tag using visual recall and short-term memory;
  • Ordering alphabetically could help if there are a large number of tags that a user will be revisiting after a long break, with a need to locate a specific tag and a knowledge of its name.

If you want a 'general guide' to take away, I would suggest asking three questions:

  1. When the user revisits the item to look at the tags, why is their real goal? How can you support it?
  2. How will users be looking for tags? Do they have something in mind and do they know what it will look like?
  3. Is this a context where there could be any kind of natural, meaningful order to the tags? For instance, if tags relate to the stage of a process, ordering chronologically could help your users read and traverse the task list.

And of course, it goes without saying - after making a choice, always test the design with a real users in a usability session.

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I agree, it seems that there is no universal rule about it. – riot_starter Sep 26 '12 at 22:08

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