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I have a question regarding UX design for an enterprise / content management system, about the best way to display nested functions without losing sight of the earlier levels.

The context is this: From a table, the user selects the dataset he/she wants to edit, which triggers a dialog to modify text fields.

The problem I have is that one text field I have triggers another function, which in my case, is an address management page. The choices made in this complex address management page will then affect the text field, and after which the completion of the process is triggered at the parent dialog.

Parent Dialog

I'm considering between having a dialog-in-a-dialog, for the sake of understanding of the strata, or having the secondary dialog (address management) replace the primary dialog (text fields). Can I have some suggestions regarding which solution (or any other you can propose) is best for my scenario?

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    Can we see the address management page? I assume its functionality is too complex to incorporate into the parent? – Matt Obee Feb 10 '17 at 13:01
  • I don't know how to upload it into a comment, but yes, its functionality is quite complex since there are multiple options of editing and creating addresses. – Lucian T Feb 13 '17 at 2:23
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I design complex enterprise software and this situation comes up frequently, i.e. you are editing a record in a modal (primary task) but one field requires you to create or select something which that field needs (this is the secondary task).

I tested a few different designs options, but the usability data when we tested various options showed that a secondary modal approach was more logical - why? The modal-on-top-of-a-modal interaction always keeps you orientated to the preceding level, and you can only move back if you either complete the secondary task or you cancel the secondary task. This approach and interaction keeps the user orientated throughout.

A little caution though - the second modal needs to be kept simple - it's goal is to satisfy the needs of the originating field, so don't put a complex interaction in the secondary task.

  • Thanks for sharing your experience! About your advice regarding maintaining simplicity in the second modal, would you consider filling in address details through multiple means, which in my case can be fulfilled either by usual text entry, or using an interactive map to retrieve coordinates, be too complex a process? – Lucian T Feb 13 '17 at 2:24
  • When it comes to entering addresses, most people know their address, and they are very familiar with the common ways to achieve this. But they would be newbies when it comes to selecting their address from a map. This doesn't mean that selecting your address from a map will be difficult or complex - it's just your users will be unfamiliar with this interaction. – SteveD Feb 13 '17 at 9:51
  • Sorry I did not clarify this properly, but the user will be a third party entering the address of the customer. These users will be using it repeatedly however, so it's possible to train them into certain intuitive UI patterns. – Lucian T Feb 14 '17 at 10:53
  • "so it's is possible to train them into certain intuitive UI patterns" - why would you need to train someone if it is intuitive? Make the entering of the address simple and only provide one way to achieve this - do not give the user a choice in the secondary task as this increases the cognitive load, i.e. it introduces a decision point in the users mind, e.g. "which of the two means should should I used?". – SteveD Feb 14 '17 at 11:03
  • Yes, making something simple and intuitive is definitely the optimal scenario, but the actual use scenarios, the end goals, along with certain limitations of current technology, demand a higher level of functionality, which otherwise would defeat the whole purpose. The third party users are helping to verify the addresses provided by the customer over the phone, and to ensure that it is a valid address, they have to retrieve the location coordinates and confirm the location with the customer at the same time. The UI for that section has been in use for years, so my only worry is the nesting – Lucian T Feb 16 '17 at 2:45

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