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I am working on a new web-application. In short summary, companies can upload their financial information, we do some processing, calculations, ... and show them pretty dashboards and charts.

A first preview of the application exists, where the user sees a dashboard with all the relevant numbers (business ratios) in multiple tables and can click on one of the ratios to see a chart, how this number changed over time. To display the chart we use jQuery UI Dialogs. We use them in a modal way which means that the user needs to close it to see another chart.

Now the requirement was, that the user wants to see also 2 charts next to each other, and my simple solution would be - open to browser windows, got to the page and open the different chats, it's easy and everyone can do it. However my boss didn't like the solution and would instead want to have something like MDI (Multiple document interface) or using browser popups.

Now I think that browser popups would look terrible, and I'm not sure about their usability on tablets and smartphones. About the MDI I just think it is way too much work for something which wouldn't actually provide any additional value to the user, since he can open multiple windows as well.

The question - am I just being ignorant towards the needs of the user and adding the possibility to have multiple charts/dialogs opened and minimize them wouldn't be too much problem, since there is some library which can help me with it? (which one)

Or is my boss still living in the 90's and tries to bring this experience back to the web?

Thank you for your time and input

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What is the number of charts displayed by the application ? Why don't you make a complete dashboard with all the informations (tables + charts) in one page ? –  Alex Jan 27 at 12:09
    
There is a second page where you can see charts only, and you can define which charts you want to see, however the first dashboard page can have easily 24 to 32 business ratios (4 tables with each 6-8 rows) where you compare in each row the actual and planned value of the business ratio (sorry i didn't use this word before to describe it better, just learned it, will update the question) –  zahorak Jan 27 at 15:01
    
Anecdotally my workplace tried web MDI, and it wasn't very fun or usable. I suggest you show him a mock up and how painful it is on a tablet. –  VoronoiPotato Jan 27 at 15:02
    
Does your boss know that the inventor of the MDI interface (Microsoft) actually and actively discourages its use? Usability studies have led MS to adopt the UI where every (former MDI) document window gets its own button on the taskbar. I would say that that pretty much equates to every chart in its own browser tab instead of one browser tab for all charts. –  Marjan Venema Jan 27 at 20:20
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up vote 2 down vote accepted

I don't know what kind of data exactly users are to operate with (and whether they're supposed to compare the data this way), but opening two instances of one webapp in separate tabs with the CTRL+ is an obvious functionality, and in this case it's being killed by the popup window (unless it has its URL reference, it would make problem disappear then). It is ultra annoying indeed, when an application prevents you from performing such an action. Web Outlook app is a perfect example - it prevents you from opening another instance by clicking CTRL+logotype, which forces you to copy-paste the address if you want to see another message while composing one. It's a typical example of terrible UI, making the basic and intuitive functionality less accessible. But, coming back to the topic, my idea would be to display a modal (remember to use the history API and put a unique URL marker so one can simply copy the link!) with both of the charts included or with buttons letting user switch the charts dynamically. As much as I can understand, in this case the so called MDI would limit to creating a new DOM element with hide/show option and an accessible list of all opened documents. This, I think, can be done quite easily with properly modified tab script, would keep your boss happy, and would probably provide the best UX of all possible solutions.

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I like your idea about adding url markers on users action as well as to the links to open modal dialogs, this would indeed make it much easier to create new windows or tabs of this application to compare any values they want –  zahorak Jan 27 at 22:04
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