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While doing research for a current software project, I have come across Ford's car builder web application. It has a wizard style navigation across the top, and disables future links until the first 2 selections (or steps) have been completed. Although these links are disabled, they are not visually disabled. They look just like they do when that are enabled, but you cannot click on them. I think that this is an acceptable solutions, because it is rather easy to figure out that you must make your initial choice before going further. See example:screenshot from Ford site

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To me, this creates less visual noise than visually disabling or greying out the subsequent steps until they are allowed. It allows for less movement, confusion, and changes from happening as choices are made.

Is it more usable to disable these future steps without visually distinguishing that they are temporarily disabled?

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3 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

For me the key to the answer is in your question: "because it is rather easy to figure out that you must make your initial choice before going further". Users shouldn't have to figure out things. Don't make them think* - just make it clear.

Update after Matt's comment: What I also don't like is that when you're on step 2, you don't see that you can click step 1 but step 2 is still disabled (they look the same). That's one more reason to make it clearer. I don't think you need to gray it out - I'm sure there are prettier solutions (but I'm not a graphic designer).

My guess would be that the page doesn't fail in user tests but that doesn't mean that you can't make the experience better. It should just be clear and obvious - the user should never even think about the interface, he should think about the dream car he's configuring.

*Hello Mr. Krug ;)

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I can see what you are saying but I didn't think it is something hard to figure out, but more of an " oh duh, i have to pick something first" kind of thing. Do you think it would help to offer feedback like "please select your style to continue"? I feel that Ford's interface is a rather good one here and would assume that they did some sort of testing before going live with it, but I could be wrong. –  Matt Rockwell Jun 7 '11 at 18:21
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Visually yes there is less distraction but interaction wise it is a distraction. Like you said you tried to click ahead and see, but nothing happened, it was disabled. I too find myself clicking ahead on wizards, only we don't know we are clicking ahead or that they are wizards.

Users like to know what is going on and what will be. Their time is precious to them and so its precious to us. Knowing its a wizard and that there are 9 steps would be good information to know.

So while not greying out the other steps (or some other treatment) might be less distracting visually it is a distraction and mis-step interaction wise.

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What would you think of a tool-tip or some feedback after attempting to click? I just feel that if you disable the rest of the steps, they will all look the same yet again, and it would be tough to distinguish that they are disabled, without taking it too far and making them look awful. –  Matt Rockwell Jun 7 '11 at 18:27
    
+1. Agree - if possible, make it clearer. –  Phil Jun 7 '11 at 18:54
    
@Matt Take a look at these design patterns for wizards patternry.com/p=multiple-page-wizard –  jonshariat Jun 7 '11 at 19:02
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In my opinion, I would approach this in two different ways:

1) Do not show the rest of the "wizard" until the first two selections are made. Allow the user to only focus on the initial model selection before they concern themselves with exterior, interior, etc. This would separate the linear selection from the non-linear.

2) Change the visual design to make this appear more like a wizard. A wizard sometimes entails a linear or logical path of actions. The visual style of this wizard appears more like a horizontal navigation, which makes the selection confusing.

These are two drastic changes, and may require more time you want to invest, but I think it may lead to a less confusing interface (less available clicks, less selections, more structure).

Lastly, I don't think making these links look disabled given the current visual design is the right direction to go in.

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