The issue I'm struggling with is fairly specific, but it touches on a general UX topic, which is how to help users grasp some abstract app concept, such as some information organization or structuring concept (think 'folder' in windows, the idea of a tag, etc)

In my case, our app provides an ability for an administrator to define default content for users (by content I mean things like slideshows or dashboards and by users I mean employees in a company). The problem is, there are many users and a lot of different content, and both change constantly. For this reason we created this idea of a 'workspace' - an admin is able to create numerous spaces and add content to each space, they are also able to grant specific users access to a space.

Why even create this 'space' concept in the first place you ask? Well, imagine we didn't and just allowed an admin to pick a user and assign them some default content. This works just fine until you have to assign the same piece of content to numerous users - so then the workflow becomes select user, add content, select next user, add the same content, and on... rather tedious!

Another option would be to do the reverse - pick some content and assign users to it. This solves the painful workflow above because an admin is able to pick one piece of content and then quickly select many users from a list. But now imagine you wanted to assign multiple content items to a given user - the workflow becomes: select slideshow 1, add a user, select slideshow 2, add same user, and on... again, tedious. So really you need to allow for both directions.

One approach would have been to simply design UI to let the user pick either one of the 'directions' above (content to users OR users to content). But there is the issue that we're not respecting an underlying structure - which is that our users organize themselves in various overlapping teams that work on various things and require this content for collaborative work and reporting. Hence the idea of a space.

Below is my latest attempt at trying to allow an admin to set default content: enter image description here

I was basically forced to add the little info bubble to explain the 'space' idea. This feels rather clumsy but I'm not sure how to avoid it. How do you explain the idea of a 'space' intuitively??

  • Question: Why not let the user's decide for themselves? Making the default for all users - nothing except the various "add" blocks you have in the screen shot?
    – Josh Bruce
    Mar 20, 2013 at 3:14
  • 1
    Instead of "workspaces", you can call this concept "rooms". People do not generally work in space. Mar 20, 2013 at 9:46

6 Answers 6


You're missing the complexities of organizations and their dynamics.

Small companies often have poorly defined 'departments' or 'project teams' - which are really the contexts for the content that's being administrated. If you aim for one of these terms, along with an on-boarding process that venn-diagram org structures, then you may get the win for which you're looking.

The deeper issue is that you cannot educate this. Small company org dynamics are the stuff of ire and infamy. Leaders avoid creating structure so as not to crush ambition nor cause it to bail. Then your app will come along and instruct people to setup teams which - with-or-without labeling - will signify team & political dynamics.

A Pandora's Box of psychological complications can arise. Skip the buzz by restricting workplace/team/department names from the members that are part of them. From the user perspective, people have access to docs - or not.

When you have bandwidth, add a preference to show share-users the workplace/team name. It may then be right to publicly list all team/place names that have been shown to their members. Non-shown 'teams' would remain anon (e.g. "Training Material for Probation Employees")

You may also want to make the app responsive to small teams by reminding admins that users can be in more than one group. When the company is larger, don't offer this, as it can overly-muddle org politics. IMO.

Probably also offer a 'direct access' link for a piece of content, so any user that can login (e.g. from another workplace) can collaborate despite not being in the formal definition of the place/team. You don't want to inhibit teamwork.


  • UX tailored to your customer / company demographics.
  • Get to know the patterns of org sizes.
  • transparency configuration
  • on-boarding that speaks savvy around politics and drama that actually drive some things.

If I understand your question correctly, you are not concerned about your concept of a "workspace", but rather about the best way to make this concept intuitive to the users.

However the "users" of your workspace are your company's administrators, not the regular employees. The employees can see whatever content was assigned to them, and perhaps add more content of their own. From their perspective there is nothing too difficult about the concept.

The admin group are the real "users" of your workspace idea – they have to understand and apply the concept. However I would imagine there aren't that many admins in your company. And perhaps it's ok if you need to explain them something before they can use it. Nevertheless, if you still looking for ways to improve your design, here are some options that you may explore:

  • Present the explanatory label to the admin only the first several times he uses the system. After that show it by default in a collapsed state – so that it normally doesn't obstruct the view, but if the user needs a refresher he can always unfold it.
  • If you feel you need to explain the concept in greater details than you do it now, you can present a short animated tutorial on the very first use of the system. The tutorial would explain step-by-step what different elements of the form are, and how to think about them. After the admin sees this tutorial once, you never present it again.
  • Depending on what kind of admins you're targeting, you may want to switch to a terminology that would be more familiar to them. For example, if they are Windows Administrators, then your concept of a workspace is parallel to the notion of a usergroup and default profile configurations for this usergroup. "Adding content to a workspace" becomes "creating default shortcuts and configuration for a usergroup", which gets copied into user's profile when he gets assigned to the usergroup. (I think).

I think you are on the right track already with the concept and even the name, so long as you are very consistent with that name (decide up front whether you will consistently call it "Spaces" or "Workspaces"). Your big problem is training and socializing this concept to the users who will need to understand it.

One common approach to socialize new concepts or workflows is to create a wizard-style "first time user" tutorial. This is something that might appear first or on top as an overlay for new users (new being contextual also, usually I'll blend in a combination of # of visits and calendar time). With the tutorial, you can introduce the entire concept in simple, step-by-step language. This is going to be a lot more effective compared with the small explanatory text at top. (some of these suggestions mirror user958624's comments)

Suggestion for this first-time tutorial

  • Introduction to Workspaces (very brief description)
  • Why Workspaces (a shorter version of your question here, explaining the reason)
  • Workspace content (what can we put in a Workspace?)
  • Workspace access and permissions (Who can see the content of a Workspace?)

Another idea is presenting the steps as To-Do list links when people come to this site. LinkedIn does a good job of this when you are a new user getting your profile built out. For example:

  • Create a workspace
  • Give users and organizations access to it
  • Add slideshows and dashboards

The fact that the To-Do list is simple also helps reinforce the Workspace concept itself. Spend less time worrying about the concept and more time making the concept extremely tangible.


I would map the concept directly to the task. The task is to assign a set of content to a user. I would call this a content-set/basket/bundle/collection etc.

As you've discoverd, a (work)space is very ambiguous in this context and is hard to figure out what it actually is referring to.

Which is clearer: A (work)space or a content-set?

The conditions of access to content look problematic: Only by user name or organization. I would add more options that map directly to how the task is done, eg by project, postion, or other criteria.


Take a look at the approach that Trello uses to organize concepts and information. The idea combines both abstract and concrete entities, and is a reasonably good metaphor for the type of problem that you are trying to work out. But as people mentioned before, it is not much good trying to make assumptions about user intent and behaviour. If you were taking a UX approach then you need to work with actual users to come up with a suitable paradigm that describes their view.


So the main question is to find the "[b]est way to communicate an abstract app concept such as a 'workspace' to users".

Specifically for the "workspace" clarification here is what I would tell the users and admin.

Work spaces are like an empty living room. People can enter rooms, and when they are done leave. In these rooms people might watch television, or sit quietly and read. Analogously as an administrator you are the interior designer and landlord, you can allow specific people into your rooms and place whatever affects you'd like to entertain the users.

Such with work spaces you as an administrator can allow users access to specific work spaces (allow users into rooms). You also get to add the content to the workspace (what is in the rooms for users to interact with).

In this light I feel the best way to convey abstract ideas is using analogies to everyday happenings.

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