I was going through a book, which said that the data should be organised in such a way that primary and secondary levels are accessed within 3-5 clicks and remaining data should be at ternary level (which means its not accessed so frequently). The rational behind this was to say that user gets required/frequent data in fewer clicks.

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There was a contradictory statement to this in one of the UX training I attended last week. It said its not true always, the data can be organized in flat hierarchy also.

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The question is how do we decide what suits the users best? Conduct user surveys? Can you guys tell me a scenario where flat hierarchy is required solution?

  • 2
    This question is far too broad for Stack Exchange. The answer depends on your scenario - which you haven't even outlined. You've already seen there are advocates for both approaches.
    – ChrisF
    Commented Mar 11, 2013 at 9:00
  • I didnt get the example for second scenario. An example for second scenario will give me a lead to dig more for the answer :)
    – Satya
    Commented Mar 11, 2013 at 9:25
  • I agree with @ChrisF: This question is just way too broad. I doubt that there exists any one answer. Also doubt that these are the only possibilities. Actual practice is often a hybrid. Commented Mar 11, 2013 at 11:00

1 Answer 1


Anything is commonly considered organized when it looks like everything has a correct order or placement. But it's only ultimately organized if any element has no difference on time taken to find it. In that sense, organizing can also be defined as to place different objects in logical arrangement for better searching. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organizing

This is the definition of organized I go by :). So according to your question, I would broadly classify user behavior in two ways: Browsing, Searching.

Browsing: When user is not sure of what s/he wants, and is looking to discover items.

Searching: When user is looking for a specific item and looking for the fastest way to get there.

Now google has made the searching paradigm super popular and commonplace. So everyone is used to that. Flat lists work better with that, as it allows you to quickly spot the one item you are looking for from a list of potential matches.

Hierarchies are best for browsing, as it allows discovery of similar items.

Flat views a.k.a Index are best for quick search and resolution.

These both depend on the number of items as well. A flat list with over 10 items is difficult to comprehend at a glance.

In the modern times this question is moot as you can do both very efficiently and with little overhead.

My personal philosophy is organize hierarchically, to enable browsing (still a dominant mode of though when seeking with unknown objectives in mind), and generate a flat structure as an Index, or allow a search from anywhere.

Anyway context is very important so you need to give a better context to generate more concrete answers.

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