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I have 4 step process. At the top I have a typical sequence map... step 1, step 2, etc..

The contents of step 3 depends on what happens in step 2. 90% of the time the 3rd step will be full of content that was driven from step 2. However, there is the off chance that there will be 0 content to put in that screen.

So I am wondering what is a better user experience.

  1. Automatically transport the person to step 4. Skipping past step 3, but leaving it in the sequence map above.
  2. Automatically transport the person to step 4, and remove the 3rd step from the sequence map.
  3. Let the person arrive at the 3rd step and present them with some messaging letting them know, "ain't nothing here bub, move on".

Thoughts? Recommendations? Especially interested if anyone can site a study or some data.

A few specifics should help in my particular scenario. This particular wizard process is an order process for an internal web portal. Step 1 is some setup information. Step 2 is products (browsing or typing in skus), Step 3 is a mix of information/up-sell content. For example, maybe the user has bought $300 and if they clear $350 they'll get an extra 10% off. Depending on the # of rules this can be time consuming... thus a separate step. The last step is a combination of payment and review.

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If you're able to provide a general concept of what's happening at each step we can probably give more accurate feedback. A lot of the users' expectations will be informed by the content of the steps, naturally. Without more details it's tough to say what kind of sequence adjustments will be the least disruptive. –  Noah C Mar 8 '13 at 2:45

5 Answers 5

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Interesting question.

The first option which I would prefer would be to combine step 2 and step three such so that that users can directly add information there. A example of that would be the online insurance form which might have only five steps in the navigation pane but might require you to fill in additional details if you added information such as "Yes,you do smoke" or "you have a history of heart disease"

Alternatively if that is not a viable choice, I recommend going with option one,but providing a summary which informs the user what all information was provided in each step. This method is often used by survey sites which will take you to the end of the survey if you dont satisfy a specific requirement. I have also seen this used in profile creation sites while applying for jobs where specific steps are skipped based upon your previous answers.

I understand that users might be confused if they missed a specific step but then going to a page and finding nothing there might confuse them more.

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1  
+1 for combining 2 & 3. Showing an empty step reminds me of rusty old Windows installations. –  JOG Mar 7 '13 at 21:00
    
Short term I will be skipping the step. Longer term I will try to fold the functionality of the 3rd step into the 2nd step. Also, plan on changing my sequence map to stop showing all steps spelled out and instead do something like, "Setup / Step 1 of 4". –  Scott Dietrich Mar 8 '13 at 23:20

I'd just gray it out saying that "Step 3 N/A (?)", with Step 4 being the active step, and on hover, I'd explain in a tooltip that "since you've answered blahblah at Step 2, we automatically blahblah".

Either that, or if it's the case of automatically filling out data based on some condition, I'd still let the user overview (and modify) this data, even if through an Edit button.

Like, if users have to register their billing address, and address is omitted as it already comes from the registration data, I'd still show a step 3 with a display form (ie. no field rectangles), with an "Edit my billing address" button.

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One option could be skipping the printing out of the discrete step numbers, and replace them with a loading bar.

So instead of ...

Step 1 Step 2 Step 3 Step 4

... you would have ...

[_ |||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||| ______]

Perhaps with a percentage number.

This way the user will be less aware of that one step is omitted.

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On the completion of Step 2, if you already know Step 3 is not required, Make your navigation say something like the following

"Finish" "Next"

If the user wants, they can proceed to the next screen. But I guess most people would prefer the Finish option.

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Since users expect to move back and forward in a wizard like this I would go with option 3. Let the user know that there is nothing here because of their previous options and let them have the ability to move back to step 2 and 1 to change their previous choises.

Skiping over steps might let the user believe something went wrong. That builds uncertainty and cognitive load - which we want to avoid. An extra click is better than uncertainty!

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1  
This is what my intuition says is the right answer. I interviewed 10 people and they were split 50/50. Half said show. Half said skip. I think the best option for now is to simply ensure that there is always something there. Essentially a "good default". –  Scott Dietrich Mar 8 '13 at 23:23

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