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I've got a desktop application which has a sidebar that takes the user to each section where they can perform different tasks (see figure 1).

I'm having trouble deciding what to put on my home/primary view. The one that the users sees when they open the program. Non of the tasks feel important enough (relative to the others) for them to be there.

Researching similar software, I see many use a "speed dial" home screen (see figure 2). I don't like that very much because it makes jumping between sections more complicated. I also really like how the sidebar looks.

At the moment, the home screen displays notifications/alerts and sync status. That's not enough to fill the screen though.

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3 Answers 3

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I’ll take your word you cannot predict the sections users are likely to want when the app starts (but see jgthms’ answer before settling on that). You’re correct that if you already have an efficient sidebar menu on every section, then it doesn’t make sense to make the home section the “speed dial” page. Eliminating the sidebar in favor of the home speed dial controls slows navigation, and having both adds complexity with little benefit.

Enhanced Navigation

However you might be able to do something to enhance the performance of the sidebar menu on the home section. For example, if the side bar menu has cascade menus, then the home section can display the cascade menu items across from their respective sidebar menu items, as if they’re “pre-opened.” That will give the user on the home section one slew-and-click access to any menu item, while still being consistent at the top level with the sidebar menu for every other section. Such a home section also educates the user of what options lie under what sidebar menu item so they can find them faster when using the sidebar menu in other sections.

As similar example, the home section could include controls to set the parameters for each section. If the user needs to filter or populate the content of each section (e.g., provide a date range for the Orders section), you can list the most recently used date ranges across from the Orders menu item on the home section. Or you can provide blanks to enter the date range on the home section so the user can get to a populated Orders section directly.

Work At Home

You already have notifications and alerts on the page, which are presumably important to see when the app starts (maybe even more important than the navigation options). Is there anything else you can put there that useful to the user? Maybe the home section can feature subset of the content of each section (again, proximal to the corresponding sidebar menu) that allows the user to do the most common and easiest tasks for that section right on the home page. Maybe some users will never have to leave the home page, making for simpler and easier-to-use app for them. If the users find they need more detail, they can “drill down” to the section, which will carry over their input from the home section.

Nothing

Your concern is there’s “not enough to fill the screen.” Why is that a problem? Blank space is a pretty good indication to the user of what they need to do next (create or retrieve something). Many office-type apps start with a blank virtual page. If users are complaining about it looking too boring, then maybe add some non-distracting wallpaper. Or make the window smaller (e.g., tall and narrow so it's tight around the sidebar menu), and expand it only when the user selects a section to show. If adding anything else to the home section just adds useless clutter, then maybe your job is already done.

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None of the tasks feel important enough (relative to the others)

But you still order your left menu in some way. So I suggest you set the first section (the one at the top) as the default one.

Other option: ask your users what task they perform most often with your app. It could help you decide which section to set as your home.

Another option: save the last section visited by a user, and redirect them to that section when they come back.

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Try to determine what the goal is of the user when he starts working with the application. The home screen should fit these goals.

If there is not one tab that stands out in terms of importance, and navigation is not an issue, you could try and think about some sort of dashboard.

Typically, the role of an information dashboard is to quickly inform users and, thus, enable them to take immediate action.

http://www.uxmatters.com/mt/archives/2010/11/dashboard-design-101.php

A dashboard could eleminate the need for your user to first having to click through all tabs to get an impression of what is going on. And the dashboard can be used as a stepping stone into other parts of your app.

This is just a suggestion though. It is difficult to say what works and what not without a little bit of context of the aim of your application, type of user, etc.

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