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I have a settings page with a fair number of options. See screenshot

Original Settings

Each of the links will take the user directly to a form where they can change the details (ie Business Settings) or a search/list where they can search for and then edit the details (ie Products)

It is a very effective and user friendly layout?

I am considering changing to have each section as an option in a vertical nav on the left and then each link will become a tab on a tabset when the option is clicked on the nav.

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5 Answers 5

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I see two alternative solutions to your question:

1) Keep the the current design.

It's good since you expose all settings at once. Since you have so many link groups it could take more time for the user to find out the difference between for examples Services management and Product management. Amazon is currently using this approach and since they're pretty obsessive with usability I would consider this solution a good solution.

Amazon uses a menu page pattern

If you choose this solution I would work more on the visual design. Make it a little bit more structured and compact. The various indents and use of black icons feels messy. Perhaps an Yahoo directory inspired layout could make it more easy to use?

2) Break it up into sub pages

and perhaps merge a couple of groups into broader ones. This is the most popular approach that big sites such as Facebook, Twitter and operating systems such as Windows and MacOs takes. They usually break the Settings sections into the following:

  • Profile (things that are visible for other members),
  • Design (How your page looks like such as background colors, Account details (stuff used by the system such as e-mail, address, phone numbers, country)
  • Site specific settings (this could be for example your Services management)
  • Change password
  • Remove your account

Twitter uses a sub page approach

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1  
The sub pages idea is good, I will think about it more. –  Craig Nov 19 '13 at 22:46
    
The Amazon page looks pretty nice I think. –  Craig Nov 20 '13 at 9:11
    
Yes, it does I think and not very far from what you've designed. –  Tony Bolero Nov 20 '13 at 13:31

I think the design in the screenshot is next to ideal. Much of the evaluation of this relates to the pros/cons of the mega-menu pattern. Allow me to elaborate:

The Mega Design

The good:

  • All options are visible to the user. This promotes:

    • Findibility - it is easier for users to find the relevant option.
    • Learnability - users can learn quicker the available options.
    • Serendipity - users may find an option of interest by chance.
  • Although there are a multitude of options, they are nicely clustered and the design is inviting.

The bad:

  • The multitude of options increase visual and cognitive load.

Things to consider:

  • Are the subheadings required? Aren't the explanations implied by the content? Do you really need to tell people what can they do on a settings page? Ideally the captions are self-explanatory so the subheadings can be removed. This will reduce visual load. If they are to remain, I would reduce their contrast (use light grey colour).
  • Usage of icons. The icons increase visual load. Most users will read the headings rather then try to make sense of the icons. Only experienced users may be able to locate the relevant item using icons. While contributing little to usability, they may increase aesthetics. Perhaps consider reducing contrast here as well.
  • Underlines underlines are soooo 70s. Consider reducing visual noise by removing these. Many systems nowadays use colours to signify a clickable item.

The Nav Proposal

The benefit of the Nav proposal is that it reduces visual load, but at the same time it also reduces visibility. When subitems are not immediately visible, users sometimes (wrongly) guess where a subitem is. The learnability and serendipity are reduced as well.

Another pitfall of the Nav proposal is that it increases interaction load - on a desktop user are 2-clicks away from their sought option. With the mega design - only 1.

You may want to conduct a quick research on pagination - there is a growing indication that users are capable of handling large data sets (then previously considered usable) and that pagination reduces usability. While mainly applicable for search results, I think it can be used to support the said above.

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It's not "friendly" in the way that the design brings me coffee in the morning, no. But it is useful, since it's a "give me all my options"-page. Now this may break general convention on giving users only the options we know they will use the most. But, this is a settings page, and as such you can have a more cluttered UI, since it's faster to use once you learn it.

Yes, the learning curve is steeper, but you have an all in one page which is nicely grouped into understandable chunks of information.

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Thanks. Learning curve is an issue as the system needs to be as easy as possible without training. –  Craig Nov 19 '13 at 22:35
    
@craig To minimize the learning effort, training is the best effort. Investing in two 4-hour sessions will make a huge difference. Users will know what to expect, and get a feeling on using the system. All downhill after training :-) –  Benny Skogberg Nov 19 '13 at 22:40
    
How would the proposed design in the screenshot have a steeper learning curve that the low-visibility nav/tabs proposal? –  Izhaki Nov 19 '13 at 22:58

It is not necessarily an ineffective layout as is. To help understand if it is effective to your users, you can run it through a series of user tests. For example -- a Card Sort, if you wanted to see what they thought category names should be, or a Reverse Card Sort if you wanted to verify your existing structure.

If you break it up into a vertical navigation on the left you can provide a smaller amount of options for the user to digest per screen, but they have to find the right category first! A user may visit 2-3 different categories before they find the right one. That's just frustrating. (I do this all the time, every time, in Windows Control Panel)

How the information is presented in those categories is also important. If you were to present each of the sub-categories in the tab, the user may again have to hunt-and-peck to find the right one. You should avoid "tabs within tabs" -- a vertical nav just being a different type of tab.

In a "tabbed" layout (versus your existing "flat" layout) you are also increasing the number of actions required to reach the appropriate setting. While increasing the number of actions is not necessarily bad it isn't outright good in the name of organization.

As it is, a user is presented with a lot of information but it can be parsed easily (at least as I interpret it from the image). The information is visually chunked well (see Card Sorting to answer "mentally organized well") and after a few uses a user is likely to be familiar enough (if not immediately) to find what they are looking for quickly.

Short answer: I would suggest the existing "flat" design.

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I think your page is fine because: 1) it's clear to me what my options are 2) captions under the title tells me what I'm able to do 3) icons, from what I can see, look appropriate.

Alternative suggestions if you feel like it's too cluttered is the regular title and caption itself, and the user can click on it to expand the options.

I think the page looks fine, but perhaps the one thing I would do is to try to "group" your options into a square grid layout like this: http://mathforum.org/alejandre/magic.square/adler/adler.3x3grid.gif (Don't forget to pad between each box as well)

That way, the text from your captions will wrap around instead of expanding to twice the length of your options, and the page itself will look much cleaner. Hope this helps some!

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