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I have a user interface that provides two alternatives for one action. The alternatives describe how the chosen action should be performed by the computer (different goal functions or heuristics of an algorithm).

The difference between them will not be self-explanatory for new users. With time, they should learn the effect on the result of the action. Advanced users should be able to decide about the alternative depending on the situation. We do not want to automate the decision, but leave it to the user.

I am considering two design alternatives. First, the alternatives could be available in (nested) sub-menus, either in the main menu or in a context menu. Second, the alternatives could be available to the user in an popup-dialog that opens after the action is selected.

First idea

mockup

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Second idea

mockup

download bmml source

The second alternative allows me to express the meaning of the two options more clearly, because I don't have to decide for a certain name for the menu entry, whose meaning must be documented somewhere. For example, I can ask "do you want to put a higher weight a) on this, or b) on that "?

Which alternative do you think is best or are there any other recommendations for this issue?

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1 Answer

It will be good to have meaningful controls for either solutions. Nobody likes to read documentation and even if the users learn the meaning but don't use the app everyday they may forget the meaning quickly. It's a bit hard to answer your questions without much context. How many actions and alternatives do you have? How is your system represented to users? Are alternatives for the actions always the same (alt1, alt2)? The issue that may arise with the 2nd idea is that you want users to read and they often skip text and just go for the buttons (based on observing many usability studies) so having meaningful buttons is important. You could also consider exposing all of the alternatives without extra click. enter image description here

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It's a task scheduling system. Users can choose a group of tasks and have them scheduled automatically. The context menu of the selected tasks shows the action "schedule selected tasks" and there are two sub-options with different optimization criteria. –  Anna Prenzel Oct 16 '12 at 18:05
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