I am building a website, and my designer came up with the idea of using a (3d) tag cloud to display the different actions a user can take (the site's functionality is somewhat complex, and so explaining its functionality is one of the main challenges).

On one hand the idea seems really compelling as it is an interactive way for the user to explore the different things she can do - clicking on each "tag" will cause a short explanation and some links to the actual pages where the action is performed to be displayed.
On the other, tag clouds have a very common and well defined goal. And that's not it.

So might it confuse users? Are there any other down sides for using it I should consider?


Edit 1 - reply to charles' comment:
I don't have any screenshots or mockups, as the new design has just started, so here are the main functions of the site:
Users can add any topic they desire, They can add questions for those topics with their answers, and the site then generates tests and quizzes. Obviously users can also take those tests and quizzes.
The site is actually already up in the air (at pmakesp.com) but its current design is horrific.. But anyhow maybe it'll help someone to understand it better.

So anyhow the actions are:
Add Topic
Add Question
Compete (=take tests as tests have an indication of who finished them the fastest)
Take Quiz
and we'll probably add some other general "actions" as "win medals"

Edit 2 - further explanation for the tag cloud's goal:
First to make the question more visual and explicit, here's a link to the cloud's demo - that's how it will look - http://www.goat1000.com/tagcanvas.php

Now as for what it'll do:
Imagine that for this site's landing page there will be a "tag" that says "Ask a Question", and clicking on it will display a box with the headline "Ask a question to be viewed by professional designers" (or something like that). The box will also contain a short explanation as to how the asking/answering mechanism work, and a link to the "Add Question" Page.
And another tag that says "Answer a Question", and "Earn Badges", and so on..
Again, the purpose is creating an interactive way for the user to understand what can be done on the site.
Hope I made it clearer this time :)

  • Do you have any prototypes or screenshots illustrating the described functionality? Commented Feb 27, 2013 at 19:33
  • Seeing your link with a working example made me think of this question. Commented Feb 27, 2013 at 22:20
  • I realize you're at the start of the design phase, but that shouldn't stop you from making a sketch for each idea that you have. Wireframing your idea will help yourself (and us) tremendously in imagining, criticizing and improving it.
    – Lukzen
    Commented Apr 7, 2014 at 16:17

4 Answers 4


Text is a structured form of information, and to get at the information your brain has to process it. Processing text in a tag cloud (even a 2D one) presents a much higher cognitive load than a simple list. A 3D tag cloud would present an even higher cognitive load, and is something that I would not recommend.

Tag clouds arguably look good from a design perspective, but from a UX perspective they are poor. So it will come down to whether UX or design is more important for you.

As an alternative, I would suggest giving all the actions in a list and applying some gamification to the list, where for each task that you complete you get some reward. This not only encourages customers to learn by doing, but presets it in a fun way that they can also read easily.

  • Thanks for your answer. I should note that gamification is already applied (in the form of points and medals). The problem that we address with the tag cloud is the relatively high amount of information we're trying to convey to the user as to how to use the site, and doing that in a playful manner, and while breaking it to specific actions.
    – Oren A
    Commented Feb 27, 2013 at 20:01
  • @OrenA If you already have it, that should make life easier. Just award points or badges for completing each task, that way people will learn what they can do simply by doing it.
    – JohnGB
    Commented Feb 27, 2013 at 20:06
  • .. But the issue is - how, on the landing page, can I make them understand what the site is about - that they can add topics, and questions, and those questions will become tests which they and others can then take, etc..(as I described in my first edit). I don't believe you mean I'll just write something like "add a question and win points", and they'll do it without understanding what's the point of adding questions, and what that question will be used for. Sorry if that wasn't clear from my question..
    – Oren A
    Commented Feb 27, 2013 at 20:12
  • @OrenA You shouldn't try to show everything that you can do on your landing page. You should focus on the few things that really matter (3 is best), and explain those well. More than that, and you detract from the most important points.
    – JohnGB
    Commented Feb 27, 2013 at 21:00

Initial disclaimer: My post may at first look seem a bit hard, but it's all in the best of interest in helping a UX.SE user in need.

Yes you confuse users, and you confuse me. I'm not really sure what problem the tag cloud would solve, as opposed to any other control. From your explaination, you're building some kind of dictionary/activity thingy:

...clicking on each "tag" will cause a short explanation and some links to the actual pages where the action is performed to be displayed.

...and actions are:

Add Topic, Add Question, Compete, Take Quiz

So if they are tags, the normal action in any system is to add tags after the content is added. It works the same way weather it's Microsoft SharePoint or Stackexchange. That convention shouldn't be broken with asking questions on a specific tag and presumably not being able to add other tags.

enter image description here

If I were you I'd go back to the drawing board, trying to figure out what the problems you're trying to solve before implementing controls. When you know what you want and your users need - it's much easier to answer this question.

  • Thanks :), not hard at all :). though I did my best, I can see where your confusion comes from. Please refer to my second edit in which I try to clearify it..
    – Oren A
    Commented Feb 27, 2013 at 20:34
  • @OrenA Great! I'm just trying to help. as for "the purpose is creating an interactive way for the user to understand what can be done on the site." I recon this is some kind of a guide or a wizard ending up in the site where the user (especially new ones) need to go through the steps to enter the site or... is there something else? Hey - Welcome to UX.SE, I forgot to say that as a comment on your very interesting question! Commented Feb 27, 2013 at 20:43
  • Thanks for the warm welcome :). It's not really a wizard, as the user is free to click whichever "tag" she's interested in finding out about, and in the box where the "tag" is explained there's a link to the actual page where the action the "tag" describes takes place (as in my example).
    – Oren A
    Commented Feb 27, 2013 at 20:49

A 3d tag cloud is an interesting concept/idea, but unless you are exploring or presenting some complex relationship then most of it will just end up as being too visually complex and not necessarily all that usable. I guess there are always going to be people who like 3d bar charts because they are visually stimulated by the extra dimension, and there will be those that prefer the simplicity and clarity of the content. I'd be interested to see if you do go further with this, because there might be some way to make it work if you have the right type of information and think more about the interactions involved.


Tag clouds should not be used for tags, much less for website functions.

One of your problems could be

the site's functionality is somewhat complex, and so explaining its functionality is one of the main challenges).

Taking a complicated problem, and adding a complicated way of displaying that problem does not simplify the solution.

And tag clouds should really never be used for a user interface or experience.

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