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I'm in the middle of redesigning a section of our app which lists files + folders, and I'm not sure which approach would be best from a UX point of view. The current system has a show action for each document which has a dashboard with activity, download/share links and basic details of the document. There are also some tabs to show share links and previous version of the file.

In my head, I'm wondering if this view is even needed at all. Instead I'm considering having a slide out modal on the documents listing page, allowing you to quickly view all of the details of the document there instead. I kinda feel like redirecting the user to a separate page to view some of the details is breaking the flow more than showing a contextual modal which could show all the same information, but I'm not an expert on UX so I'm not really sure what would be best.

Example

Something like this as an example of what I've got in mind

Current UI

Original design This is the current UI that I'm considering replacing. It's not great as it stands so needs updating regardless

  • To clarify, the current "dashboard with activity" is a new page. The design you're considering is a widget that appears on the same page? An issue I'd be concerned about is performance. A lot of modern designs are very nice until performance is considered. – 習約塔 May 14 at 10:58
  • @xiota yeah that's correct. What kind of performance issues are you referring to? Delays in terms of loading data or more the rendering performance of the sidebar? – PaReeOhNos May 14 at 11:00
  • Assuming there was no performance issue, which option would be better from a UX perspective? Also, what kind of performance issues have you seen with this implementation, and would a delay caused by data loading really be worse than the delay to load a whole new page, and then have to go back a page to get back to the original data list? – PaReeOhNos May 14 at 11:08
  • Can you share the current user interface of the dashboard if possible so that we can understand the issue at hand more clearly – Sheraz May 14 at 11:10
  • In principle, I'm convinced by your reasoning, but I don't know. You might need to run an experiment if you really want to know. As for performance of opening a new page, it depends on the design. For instance, how many scripts is it running? Usually I open in new tabs, so the old page is immediately available when the tab is closed. With sliding widgets, that's not an option. – 習約塔 May 14 at 11:11
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I'm considering having a slide out modal on the documents listing page, allowing you to quickly view all of the details of the document... I kinda feel like redirecting the user to a separate page to view some of the details is breaking the flow more than showing a contextual modal which could show all the same information...

I am generally convinced by your argument. A sliding widget does seem like a good idea, but I don't really know. Here are some options to consider to figure out which approach you'd prefer:

  • Shadow users to see how your app is being used in the "wild". This may give you some ideas about what your users would prefer.

  • Do some basic usability studies on your existing app to see whether this portion of the interface causes any problems. These are the basic five-user tests that everyone loves doing. You might identify other areas you should work on improving first.

  • Develop both interfaces and run a bona fide experiment to determine which is better. (A/B testing.) This would be a lot of work. I'd go with another approach if you can get your answer by other means.

Some other questions worth looking at:


Extrapolating from my experience as a user of other web apps, I'd be concerned about performance. A lot of modern designs are very nice until performance is considered. Any lag, whatever the reason, affects usability. Suppose you're comparing systems that take 1s vs 5s to load or render something. That's a significant difference.

You might think that opening and loading a new page would take just as long as loading data for a widget, but that depends on how the page is coded. For instance, how many scripts is the page running? How good is the javascript engine that's controlling the widget? Etc.

Web apps have become so bloated that I favor html fallback for email. I use the mobile version of some sites on desktop. I tend to open pages in background tabs, so new pages are immediately available when I'm done with the current page. With sliding widgets, that likely wouldn't be an option. There's even lazy execution of javascript, so they don't run in the background anymore, so it might not even be possible to allow the widget the load and render in the background. These behaviors may be idiosyncratic to me, but tabs are a prominent feature of modern browsers. At least, it serves as 'food for thought'.

I'm not arguing against using a sliding widget. These are just some potential issues that could make the widget better or worse than loading a separate page.

  • Overall very good advice. I've gone down the route (pending feedback) of keeping a separate page with details - primarily because of your point about opening in a new tab as it's something we've had comments on about in the past. Unfortunately we don't have the time/money to be able to do any real A/B testing or anything so for the time being it's going to have to be what we internally decide, but when there is time this will be the approach we take – PaReeOhNos May 16 at 8:58
  • It may be possible for developers to start getting the backend ready to work with either approach. That way switching or A/B testing in the future would be easier. – 習約塔 May 16 at 9:03
  • That would be nice, sadly I don't think management would be able to justify it. Too much going on without the time to do it - but will certainly sound them out :) – PaReeOhNos May 16 at 9:45

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