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I'm working on a configurator tool with a complicated back end and a large selection of products and product options. In the current behavior if an option is selected that requires the selection of other options the user is messaged. I would like to add a link to the message that takes the user directly to the page where the required option can be chosen.

It's been discovered that there are back end limitations that restrict this functionality for many options. This means that while a majority of options can be accessed directly from a link in the message a large minority cannot. I'm torn between adding this useful functionality (links) for the messages that can use it and leaving all messages without links so the user is not exposed to an inconsistent experience.

Any thoughts or advice?

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1  
Out of curiosity, what's the limitation that's preventing this from working with the other options? –  Jason Towne Apr 5 '11 at 17:37
    
Hi Jason. According to the Dev team different messages come from different places owned by different teams. Some of the teams can't (or won't - not sure which) supply a path to required sub-option. I understand some products are also modelled differently because of different business unit requirements. This could also lead to problems in determining a correct path needed to link to the sub-options. Bottom line: Dev insists that not all messages can contain links. –  user4506 Apr 5 '11 at 20:36

3 Answers 3

Nice question!

I'm of the opinion that we shouldn't punish all users where we can just inconvenience some of them. I would try making the inconsistency either so small or so large that it isn't perceived as one.

To make it small, downplay the link functionality, present it like something secondary and minor, with something like this:

In order to select this option you should go there and select this and that.

(Note: you can get there directly by pressing here)

If the note appears in some messages but not in others, I think it won't be too high a price to pay.

Alternatively, to make the inconsistency large, present it as two very different messages. They may have different icons, different phrasing and different design in general, so that users won't expect them to be the same in any case.

Of the two, I prefer the first option.

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+1 But I prefer the second option. Users don't have to be consciously aware of the inconsistency to be affected by it. Case in point. ;-) –  Patrick McElhaney Apr 5 '11 at 20:20
    
Hi Vitaly. Thanks for your response. I will talk to my dev team about this approach. –  user4506 Apr 5 '11 at 20:46
    
@Patrick :). But I think that's a different matter. With the permalinks the control didn't make sense in itself (I'd expect the links to open in a box in any case), but the inconsistency did make it worse. –  Vitaly Mijiritsky Apr 6 '11 at 5:02
    
I prefer the first option too. I would even make the fact that the direct link is not known explicit (e.g. "(Note: a direct link is not known)" : at least it is honest, and if a lot of users miss it, you could get feedback and a push from your userbase to get it fixed. –  nathanvda Apr 7 '11 at 7:51
    
@Nathanvda, personally I wouldn't go there. This info is unnecessary to the user, and it just raises their frustration and draws attention to the shortcomings of the app - and that's if it's phrased and understood well. For example, with the phrasing you suggested, I'd think "hell, if they don't know where to fix it, then how am I supposed to find it?". –  Vitaly Mijiritsky Apr 8 '11 at 7:19

I like the suggestion from @Vitaly.

I was thinking: isn't if confusing for a user to be able to select something, only to be notified that the selection is not possible, and he should do something else first?

Of course I have no clear view of the complexity of the application, but I would suggest either of the following:

  • disable currently impossible choices, with a short explanation how options could become 'enabled' again.

  • if a user wants to select something which is currently not possible, set all the required settings immediately for him. It seems obvious the user wants it to happen, so make it happen. Not sure if that is an option. For example, if such an option is: "print speed: 200ppm", and the side-effect is "quality should be draft", set it to draft, notify the user, and allow the user to rollback cleanly ("Quality has been set to draft. Undo?"). That way the consequence is clear, and the user doesn't have to take extra steps.

It seems to me that you have a clear case of inside out, instead of outside in. Instead of offering the user all options she can set, that might have a required effect if combined correctly together, start from the required effects. What does the user might want to accomplish, and make that easy.

Hope it helps.

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Hi Nathanvda, The issue isn't the selection of unavailable options. It's of a potentially inconsistent experience of having some selectable options that can be easily navigated to by the clicking of a link in a message and others that have no link and must be "manually" navigated to by user clicking two or three links to find the correct page. –  user4506 Apr 6 '11 at 16:37
    
Hi user4506, you say that if a user selects option A, then also option B needs to be selected. To me this means either option A could not have been selected first, or if the user wants to select option A, why not automatically select option B. Instead of trying to warn the user that option B must be selected, and if possible giving a link to jump to that selection straight away. So, granted: my answer is maybe not a direct answer to your question, but an attempt to think of a different approach. This weird dependency seems very unintuitive and not user friendly at all. –  nathanvda Apr 6 '11 at 19:26
    
Hi nathanvda, the experience is like this. User makes a selection from option A in category 1. Either because of the specific option or because of the category that option A is contained within (or both) other options may be required. But they're usually not specific options - they're selections a user must make from a list of many options. We have a class of option that we call "included components." This is similar to what you're talking about. If a selection requires a specific option SKU and no other option can be chosen the system automatically adds the required component. –  user4506 Apr 6 '11 at 22:13
    
@user4506: I now understand your problem area better. In that case, if a further selection needs to be made, the ideal would be if the extra selection could just pop-up (in a dialog or something). I assume that that is not possible yet (hassle your dev-team to make it possible? Would require more smaller blocks in the ui to allow the reuse). –  nathanvda Apr 7 '11 at 7:52

Not sure how much control you have over the coding, but it seems like it'd be relatively simple to build some logic where the messaging is only displayed when there's a relevant link. That way those without a clear path won't see the message at all.

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Thanks for you response Voodoo. Unfortunately, my Dev team insists that it's not possible for all messages to contain links (see my explanation above). –  user4506 Apr 5 '11 at 20:41

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