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We have a web app that is a centralized toolbox of various marketing tools. On it our users can either order printed documents, send one of our predefined email newsletters and download various documents. These documents are organized hierarchically, in a way similar to that of the files and folders of a filesystem.

We are currently unsure as to how users should access the documents. We imagine two solutions :

  1. When the users log in, they find a page where they find 3 links (print, email, downloadable docs), each going to the appropriate product hierarchy.

  2. Group all the types of documents together in the same hierarchy, while making sure that hierarchy is easy to navigate.

Which solution would be easiest for the users? Or is there a better solution?

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Am I right in understanding that a document can be delivered in either print format, email or downloaded? Or is the content in one format different from the content in another format? –  Matt Obee Nov 8 '12 at 16:54

2 Answers 2

If I understand correctly that each product only fits one delivery model (print, email, download), I'd posit these are not hierarchical at all. You're describing a single group of products with an attribute: delivery method. As such, you should look to attribute-selection interfaces from other successful sites.

Consider these:

  • The newegg LCD TV "department" - You see an overview of all LCD TV's, and you can filter the list by any number of attributes by licking them on the left.
  • A google search for "puppies" - Your immediately see a mix of results from all categories. But, you can filter these by clicking the type-selectors on the left and/or top.
  • Amazon's Books "department" - In addition to the normal mostly-hierarchical categorization, you have clickable selectors on the left-hand side that address your UI issue: delivery method.

In all of these cases, there can be other hierarchies and attributes associated with the products (or search results). Unless there is a strict hierarchy that must for some reason be presented as a hierarchy, treat each product as an item on a common list. Delivery method, as well as most other attributes, should be treated as independently selectable attributes to filter on.

Then, for each item on the list, present only the applicable link or button: email | download | print.

One thing that cannot be stressed enough: follow the examples of existing, successful .com's for most (but admittedly not all) UI/UX questions.

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As @Matt Obee commented it would be good to know if the same document could be used for different purposes (download, print, email). If it is, I think organizing all documents together could be a good option since it might be easier for the user to find the document vs. going to different options (download, print, email) to see if the document is there. You may want to consider using card sorting method to find out the correct categories http://www.boxesandarrows.com/view/card_sorting_a_definitive_guide. I think the decision also can depend what your users usually do; do some users just come to the site to print and some just to download? If that's the case maybe it would be easier to to go with option 1.

Here are couple of options

User can perform action on multiple docs

enter image description here

User can perform action on one doc

enter image description here

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+1 Agree with you. Organizing in categories is a good thing! –  Benny Skogberg Nov 8 '12 at 21:07
    
But you're already an authority here so you really need to update that avatar of yours. Maybe to the one on your homepage? The image from Hawaii is perfect :-) –  Benny Skogberg Nov 8 '12 at 21:10

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