PROBLEM Currently working on some enhancements to a control panel admin bar.

This bar displays a list of modules that a user can install on their site.

Currently the module list shows everything at once and expands 100%.

This seems like it will create a large cognitive load on the user since everything is shown at once.

Module list showing all available mods

SOLUTION: Would it be better to constrain the amount of items shown and add in 'paging' toggles like a (Carousel style UI?)

Module list constrained to display 5 at a time with left and right paging toggels

  • 3
    are your users the mass casual internet users with an unknown level of skill or specific, frequent users who may even be trained (the word 'admin' implies the latter) - please give some details about your users – Toni Leigh Mar 25 '14 at 20:05
  • Is your app intended for mobile or desktop? – Pdxd Mar 25 '14 at 20:13
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    @Busycloud Is there a reason you chose to do a sliding gallery or horizontal list instead of a vertical one? I ask because your icons and text seem to be quite minimal (a lot of space surrounding each component), you could potentially make better use of the space as a vertical (scrolling) menu. – Krazer Mar 25 '14 at 21:35
  • The users are a mix of casual site owners and skilled devs. This is the control panel area of the site where you can drop in existing modules onto the page. This is desktop only. In the near future we will be going to a new layout and feat a vert list that will be pinned to the left of the browser window. – Busycloud Mar 25 '14 at 22:14

I'm not sure the Jam study is appropriate for this response as the interface isn't about choice. The user knows presumably where they need to go they just need to find the door. I'd question first off the size of the buttons you've made which help contribute drastically to the problem. In this interface you must take care to present the most used elements first in the list or allow the user to reorder them as they need. I'd probably suggest a simple drop down would work better or a dashboard type of layout.


This approach definitely decreased cognitive load. You might know about the famous jam study created by Sheena Iyengar. In this study, participants were shown anywhere from 24 to 6 jams and were asked to make a decision. Overwhelmingly, participants experienced less anxiety with decreased decision making points.

The study's hypothesis stated that the “the presence of choice might be appealing as a theory, but in reality, people might find more and more choice to actually be debilitating.”

Based on this research, I would definitely constrain the number of options shown. An improvement that could be made is the cognitive association between the icons and the text. Users dislike reading. As such, iconography is crucial for decisions like these. Creating more conceptually-driven iconography may also help in decreasing anxiety and time for users to make an informed choice. With better iconography, and by doing some research based on what links are the most clicked, I believe you are able to create a very usable and cognitively-driven CP Admin panel :)

References: 1, 2

  • I don't see how that study applies. I agree that when faced with many similar options for a single choice that a person can quickly become overwhelmed. However, a person doesn't have that same anxiety when allowed to pick zero or more of the available options. In other words, there is no dilemma which causes possible anxiety about picking only one. In the ice cream scenario from the first reference, the child only gets one flavor. If, instead, the child was allowed to pick zero or even all of the flavors then I doubt the child would have had a problem. – NotMe Nov 7 '14 at 20:18

When the user is looking to add a module, would they have a good idea what they're looking for or would they have to see all the options in order to pick one?

Looking at your example, it seems like the items are so distinct that they'll know what they want before they see the list.

The purpose of constraining options is to decrease cognitive load when the user don't know what option they want. Therefore I question whether it makes sense for your use case which is an application as oppose to a website or kiosk for one-time use.

It'll probably make sense to reduce amount of interface so the user can pick want they want as quickly as they can. Use of page toggling may slow down the user.

Take a look at the Balsamiq wireframe tool that comes with the stackexchange editor. It effectively does the same thing as what your app does. They show as many options as it fits on screen and I don't see users having difficulties deciding what they need.

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