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I'm working on a project for an online service provider. We offer multiple report and within each service type the user can have one to many instances of the service. Each instance of each service has multiple settings pages associated with it. What is the best navigation model for this? Below is what I have used in the past...

- Dashboard Overview

     - Dog Type (Bull Dog, Golden Retriever, Black Lab, Poodle,...) 

          - Overview: Bull Dog

          - Report 1: Length of Hair

          - Report 2: Average Smelliness

     - Cat Type (Siamese, Tabby, Rex, Calico,...) 

          - Overview: Siamese

          - Report 1: Length of Hair

          - Report 2: Average Smelliness

     - Bird Type (Parrot, Eagle, Raven, Tweety Bird,...)

          - Overview: Eagle

          - Report 1: Length of Hair

          - Report 2: Average Smelliness

In the example above, to navigate to a the Siamese cat avg smelliness report, a user has to take the following path...

   1. Start on Dashboard
   2. Click cat reports nav item.
   3. Find and click Siamese in the list of cats.
   4. Arrive on Siamese cat overview page.
   5. Click 'Average Smelliness' link.
   6. Arrive at destination.

In this model, we can't provide direct navigation to the sub pages because we first need to know the type. The number of types can be one to many. Is there another way to approach this?

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The model you are looking for is known as a faceted search or faceted navigation. Variations on this are many and may not apply to every product. This is no small undertaking.

A few suggestions to get you started

Spend some time on a car search site or amazon, home depot or the like to find some patterns that might work with the products are working with.

Search is a great way to get a user to a set of results they can then filter down.

If the number of root groupings of reports is low, you can offer a gallery style entryway into each of them. An example is The apple store: They start with 4 products, iPad, iPhone, Mac and iPod. From there they narrow results. Their refurbished section is a good example of faceted navigation.

Here is some discusssion.

IMHO, success in this is a big task. I hope this sets you in the right direction.

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