I am building layouts for a public-facing site that requires the user to fill in multiple pages of information to apply for a license. Think in terms of someone applying to hold an event on public ground.

Most users will be casual and it is unlikely that the same user or combination of users will be part of an application more than once. Each application is unique and not part of an ongoing series.

One of those pages in the application involves having the user complete role assignments for the license. Depending on the sub-type of license they are applying for there may be several roles that need to be filled before the application can be completed, and those roles can be filled by individuals or organizations (a construction company for example). Each user or org, who is not the user filling out the license application, will have contact info and details added in a separate form.

This section will be 3 or 4 pages into the application.

By default the user filling out the application, who has already entered their information at this stage, is assigned to all available roles. This is likely to be the case for about 50% of applications.

So there are three elements to the page.

  1. The roles assignment
  2. Manage users (add, edit, remove)
  3. Manage organizations (add, edit, remove)

Users of this application will be 'amateur', perhaps not using the system more than once a year, so the different elements need to be recognized and understood as easily as possible. At the same time there is a learning curve to making an application, there is a lot of information required and the user will need to read the instructions on each page to complete it successfully.

However the user will understand this when starting an application. There will usually have been direct contact with the license issuing organization in advance to discover if a license is actually required or not. If it is then the user is directed to this online system to make the application.

My initial layout is below.

Role assignment, stacked layout version http://www.shorecg.com/roles-stacked.png

My rationale here was to make sure that all the elements are visible to the user and don't have to be 'discovered', beyond scrolling down the page. Help text at the top would explain what's required on this page and that if the user will play all the roles they can 'skip' ahead.

This layout takes up 2/3rds of the page width, there is a progress indicator in the left column to help orient the user during the license application.

In initial reviews it's been pointed out that the user and organization management sections are beneath the fold and may not be 'discovered'. My response to this is that the user will be notified that the sections exists in the instructions at the top, plus there is a 'help' notation at the top of the table to reinforce this. The user also needs to scroll down the page to submit this section.

Asked to come up with an alternative I produced the following.

Role assignment, tabbed layout version http://www.shorecg.com/roles-tabbed.png

The rationale here is that the user is shown the three different elements at the top of the page and they are always accessible, albeit not all visible on the page at once.

My preference is for the first layout. Wherever possible I think it's best to keep related functionality on the same page. Users will be aware that understanding the page is important to complete the license application, and even if they are the sort that likes to 'jump in' it is not a big leap to suggest that they will discover the below-the-fold content. With the tabs the user is clicking through 3 different screens and since the license application process consists of multiple pages I think presenting the user with another 'tier' of pages is best avoided.

Another suggest was to combine user management with the role assignments, so in the drop down have an option to "add new user" and "add new org", but I think the two main functions - assigning roles and managing users/orgs - should be kept distinct, especially as this is aimed at 'amateur' users. Plus this method does not allow for removing users or editing their information.

Which solution seems best, or is there an alternative layout that I am missing? Thanks for any insight.

  • does the "Save Roles" button save only roles tab for your second option? Jul 25, 2014 at 21:58
  • It would, but there's nothing to manually 'save' on the other tabs. If a user is deleted or edited it will be submitted to the server-side either using AJAX or through a page reload if the user has JS disabled, and adding a new user involves moving to a separate page and filling in that user's details, there is too much detail to capture to use an inline form. Is the user is assigned to a role and then deleted the role will become unassigned. So the 'save' button only relates to the state of the assignments.
    – Marcus
    Jul 26, 2014 at 23:02

1 Answer 1


In both your examples the applicant will have to go back and forward between roles and persons/organizations.

It seems to me that you have some roles that are defined earlier in the process and you want the ability to change a role to some other person or organization instead of the one doing the application.

I think you should ask yourself if having a separate area for managing users or organizations is what's important here.

some other questions for you to think about

  • are the added users available to other processes?
  • is the managing area available anywhere else?
  • if no, is this the best place to introduce the concept of adding/deleting users?
  • would it be possible for a person/org to be in more than one role?

the answers to these questions will give you a better idea on where to have the users part

  • either a whole new section regarding managing users, users which will then be accessible here in the dropdowns you used
  • integrate the adding on this step using something similar to the assign + add combo you mentioned; maybe something like this: enter image description here
  • This is the only place where roles are defined and additional users managed or referenced. The first page of the license application captures the details of the person filling out the form. In approximately 50% of cases they will be the only person associated with the application and so they are by default initially assigned to all roles. So managing users is purely a 'sub-section' of assigning roles.
    – Marcus
    Jul 26, 2014 at 23:10
  • My initial thought was that we would capture the details of additional users in the second step, but as they are likely to be unfamiliar with the roles required we need to introduce that concept and show the roles first. Whatever solution is used the user will need to go back and forth between roles and users if additional users are needed. The form to capture details for each user is quite long (by law).
    – Marcus
    Jul 26, 2014 at 23:12
  • I appreciate the proposed questions. It is possible for a user to be in more than one role, the default user is assigned to each role initially as mentioned and new users can be added to one or all roles. If it was just a matter of adding a name for additional users I think the UI would be nice and simple, similar to your example but with an inline field for a new name, but because there is this compulsory long form for each user added it needs to push the user to a different page and a back-and-forth is inevitable.
    – Marcus
    Jul 26, 2014 at 23:19
  • At the most basic the user needs to be introduced to the roles concept and then shown that additional users can be added to fill those roles if desired. (Sorry for all the comments!)
    – Marcus
    Jul 26, 2014 at 23:20
  • seeing as this is the only place where additional users are involved, maybe it doesn't matter if she/he adds more users than actually needed to roles (you could always delete unused users after application submit, etc); instead change would open a section under the current role with 2 options: either pick one preexisting users (at first they'll be able to pick only themselves) or full form for add a new user (which will be assigned to current role and become available to pick later for the other roles on save/add); maybe add a third option to edit current user
    – Liviu A
    Jul 27, 2014 at 0:35

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