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Working on a site that requires the user to be able to input events into a 'diary' over a specified duration (say 4-21 June).

The obvious interface for me is an interactive calendar, but at a recent wireframe review session it was revealed that a lot of the project board on the client side do not agree. I may still have the opportunity to convince them, but in the meantime I'm looking for alternatives.

There are 2 issues that are stumping me here:

  1. The client doesn't want a list view either,
  2. This is a page element, not an entire page, so space is limited.

Has anyone seen examples of, or have any ideas about, alternatives to the traditional calendar view?

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Can you shed any light on why the project board don't buy in to the calendar idea? –  Rob Jul 1 '10 at 9:02
    
One valid reason is that they're unconvinced the calendar view works considering that the specified duration is likely to be considerably less, or considerably more, than a month. So you'd either have a lot of empty days, or you wouldn't be able to view the. entire event at-a-glance. There would be situations when a relatively small duration would split over 2 months as well, e.g. 30 June - 3 July. We suggested a business rule that defaulted the view to week rather than month in this case, but that didn't go down well either. –  Ali Jul 1 '10 at 9:11
    
A less valid reasons is that "it's not pretty enough" (they've only seen a wireframe so far). –  Ali Jul 1 '10 at 9:12

5 Answers 5

I'm guessing here, but if using a calendar as a structure for these user inputted event dates is not acceptable, then your options are fairly limited - it would seem that a simple list would meet the requirement

e.g.

Date Time Event

02/06 1400 Meeting with Project Board

03/06 1500 Wireframe Session

...with 'X's to delete rows?

However, going up a level, the question in my mind would be what are your target user's mental model? Will they conceptualise the events better in a more traditional diary type repository? If so, how can the page space available be used to support this...

Another alternative that springs to mind would be a small calendar box (single month view) with < and > arrows across the top (as they usually are) to move the month. Then use a modal dialog/overlay to handle the data entry, and then reflect it back with a bold date (as most diary type systems do).

N

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I may still have a chance of pushing the calendar view because it so closely matches the mental model of the target user groups. Interrogation of the personas previously completed indicates that this would work. The list view is going to be difficult because the duration could be anything from 4 to 103 days. It must be possible to add an event to any of the days, so the longer durations are going to result in huge lists. You're right that the options are limited; it may be the case that we have to knock up wireframes of the list view to demonstrate why it won't work well. –  Ali Jul 1 '10 at 9:25
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Or better yet, run some quick guerilla style user tests to collate some evidence to present to the stakeholders. IMHO it's always better to challenge a champion with evidence, and if you're then overruled by the powers that be, then at least you've done all that you reasonably can - as opposed to letting the HIPPO win. –  Nick Fine Jul 1 '10 at 10:19
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I'd go as far to suggest a definition list (title/data) with a slider for the time period if covers. The slider being consistent time increments you define in requirements. At a glance you could see name, multiple descriptions and full time range covered? Just an alternative thought. –  Susan R Jul 1 '10 at 13:50
    
Just sketched out a similar idea to the slider option and it seems to work. Have added a small calendar view to the slide to show position of "day 4" within the month. Comprehensive user testing starts at the end of the month so will update with feedback if you're interested. Huge thanks Nick and Susan, inspirational. –  Ali Jul 2 '10 at 11:56

Input into a 'diary,' huh? Check out time tracking apps.

You can find some inspirations here http://lifehacker.com/5362829/five-best-time+tracking-applications

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Consider a model less time oriented. Such as a wall of post-it notes with the dates on them. They could be side by side in order or stacked with just the dates showing but movable to reveal the diary note on the sticky. This way you could have entries that are date ordered but without the extra space between entries.

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This is more of a brainstorm rather than an answer, but how about a scrollable, horizontal timeline-like widget? The problem some people have with calendar displays is that it requires navigation in two dimensions, and/or they need to specify ranges that span months which can be very awkward with traditional month-at-a-time calendar widgets.

Present a horizontal row of boxes representing a typical period of time (two weeks?) plus a fudge factor. Let the control be scrollable, so there's a couple months worth of buffer on either side that can be scrolled to. for example:

June    July
[29][30][01][02][03][04][05][06][07][08][09][10][11][12][13][14][15][16]

(the [1], etc would be represented as a square or button -- don't use the square brackets, of course)

You can use color coding to represent weeks or weekends, or mondays, etc. It depends a bit on the actual application as to what makes the most sense to highlight.

If they are always selecting a continuous range, a single click sets the original beginning/ending of the range. Clicking to the right sets the end, clicking to the left resets the beginning. Two clicks and you're done.

You can also add controls to select common durations such as 1d, 1w, 2w, 4w, etc.

If they know the duration (eg: 2 weeks) but not the starting and ending dates, give them a way to select the duration and you can automatically select the end date based on what start date they pick.

Whether this is suitable for your app is hard to say, but it might be worth a paper prototype to show to stakeholders.

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You could use a horizontal control with two sliders representing the two ends of the date range:

       Wed June 29
-----------O--------O-----
                 Thu July 8

The downside is that you need to be able to predict the maximum and minimum values, or provide additional controls to allow the user to extend the range.

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Both good ideas - I've paper prototyped a similar solution, which has now been approved by the project board for user testing. It utilises a horizontal scroll, but displays the days in durations, rather than the days of the month (i.e day 1, day 2, rather than June 2nd, June 3rd etc). I'll be interested to see how the participants in the testing cope with the interactive element of adding an event/item to a day. –  Ali Jul 12 '10 at 13:01

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