Background: Product I'm working with caters to developers, and I'm redoing the UI to improve usability. Currently, the UI behaves like the system model, which is fairly complicated because its a relational database model. For example, in the UI you can create an application (MyApp), a directory (DIR), and accounts (Bob). Bob exists under DIR, and DIR exists under MyApp. However, DIR can also be associated with another app - MyApp2.

Our current UI navigation places equal weight on application, directory, and accounts.

If you ask developers about common tasks, they would say sth like "i first create an application, then i create the directory, and then the accounts. Later, I would go into my application and see what accounts are in there." So their user model is application-centric, which has major implications in the UI because supporting this makes it appear inconsistent with the system. So you can imagine, if we have an app-centric UI, a user chooses an application and sees its associated directories and accounts. It implies that a directory exists under a single application (which is not the case, but may possibly be a common use case).

This is the current system model:

current system model

This is the user model:

user model

I'm struggling with this inconsistency. The current UI is too bloated and tries to do too much by listing all the capabilities, and designing it with the user model in mind would simplify the UI. But designing the user model seems inconsistent with the actual system model.

  • 1
    It's difficult to give possible solutions, because it's unclear what is permitted and possible. Can you start from scratch? Should it stay within a certain scope? Can you show us something of the old/current application? Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 8:14
  • Do users only exist under the DIR or are they cross application as well?
    – Modika
    Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 15:22
  • Users exist under DIR, but DIR can be associated with multiple applications...so yes, they are cross application. Paul, what do you mean by 'should it stay within a certain scope?'
    – JLC
    Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 16:08
  • If your users are accustomed to this structure, why do you want to change it? Have they mentioned any problem with the existing interface? Who want to change this and why?
    – PatomaS
    Commented Apr 3, 2014 at 7:01
  • actually, not many people use the ui. developers can do these things programmatically, and the ui isnt helping them complete tasks easier. I am in the process of getting some customer interviews to find out
    – JLC
    Commented Apr 4, 2014 at 3:21

2 Answers 2


Going to prefix this with i am a developer first and budding UX person second so some of the terminology may be off here. Putting this in an answer as it may be long, but any little helps i guess and may open up a debate.

Maybe we are complicating the user model with the user flow. The current system model is the true system setup because everything is shared across one global boundary (the apps, directories and users are not bound to each other exclusively) and refined in local boundaries (Users -> Directories -> Apps), so this in not really the context of the database structure it is just the flow of the application in my opinion.

I would not look to change the existing setup navigation wise, because like you said you will give the impression that the context has changed and the users and directories are now self contained within an application, which is not the case, and offering up directories/users that exist in different application spaces may confuse the process further and go against what you are trying to achieve as the existing system is already used.

Even if you think the current user model does not correlate exactly to how the application is setup, going for a drastic shift in sandboxing (in flow anyway) the applications, directories and users would do the opposite.

So, if you remove the focus of the navigation it then becomes a focus on core activities that may benefit from improved flow and your UX wizardry. For instance, does adding a user to a directory have an extra step that can be removed, does the current setup lead itself to duplication of directories and users across boundaries, can this be resolved with a more intuitive UX flow, i am clutching here as i don't know the app flow to offer anything real :) but hopefully it moves away from structure and more to experience at a feature level.


If the user is the account, then the account can be the top-level environment. In this case, you would get:

enter image description here

Form the user's perspective, the UI includes everything he/she can do when logged in.

If the user has multiple accounts, the UI can stay the same:

enter image description here

  • the solution you are proposing is the equivalent of that I called the 'user model.' Our current UI currently has the user as the top-level navigation, so that isnt a problem. THe problem is, whether setting the nav this way is aligned with the real system model
    – JLC
    Commented Apr 3, 2014 at 23:59

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