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I support a rich client line-of-business Windows application. Several of my forms have started to get bogged down with an array of buttons specific to that form. These buttons have historically been text only, mainly because it would be next to impossible to find stock icons to convey these buttons' meanings.

I'm looking for a new UI model for these buttons. I have the option of changing them into Office-style ribbon panels or of simply adding icons to each button to make them easier to find. In either case, though, I struggle to understand options for getting appropriate icons. Most of the icon libraries I own or have found on the web are too general for my needs, so I'd likely have to combine stock icons with custom-made ones (to maintain consistency), which can get expensive in a hurry.

I welcome any advice on a way around this icon concept. Or maybe advice on the best way to purchase custom icons that would match the aesthetic of an existing library. enter image description here

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    So what are usability issues with these forms? Re-design will have impact if it solves some real problems. – Alexey Kolchenko Oct 13 '14 at 20:16
  • My array of buttons keeps growing. On one form, I have around 12 buttons in a column. It's getting difficult for the users to find the one they're looking for. Many of my users don't have English as their primary language, so text-based buttons isn't optimal. As much as anything, I'm really just trying to figure out a new metaphor because I expect it to keep growing. – Barry Gilbert Oct 13 '14 at 20:36
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    Hi Barry, could you possibly throw together a quick wireframe to give a bit more context? It's easy to imagine a "form" with "too many buttons", but these UI solutions are often born from the context of the problem. – dennislees Oct 13 '14 at 21:48
  • Huge icons array are almost the same as huge text array, both are slow down information seeking and processing. Probably you need to change users' flow. Just having icons isn't the best solution. – Alexey Kolchenko Oct 14 '14 at 7:33
  • Dennis, image added above. Alexey, I envisioned buttons with both images and text. – Barry Gilbert Oct 14 '14 at 13:27
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The main problem seems to be the amount of buttons not the kind of their appearance.

The goal is, that your user finds the right button fast. A visual hint would help, but if the icons ar not self-explanatory, the users would have to learn their meaning which only helps if they use this form often.

Anyway, each time the user has to scan all buttons to find the right one. A solution could be, that you try to group the buttons. If you do so, try to group them in the way the user thinks. A good groupcriteria could be the users goals on this form.

  • I really like this idea of grouping similar buttons. I do dynamically enable/disable buttons based on business rules and also hide some buttons based on permissions and rules. At some point, the number of buttons may grow to the point that even grouping won't help. For now, though, this feels like the best solution. Thanks for all the good suggestions everyone! – Barry Gilbert Oct 14 '14 at 17:30
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It might be best to try an alternative layout for the buttons rather than icons as knowing what an icon means outside of the staple well known ones, for things like Play, Pause, Save, Delete etc. is not always easy.

It might be more worthwhile spending time on a good translator and using something like i18n for internationalisation.

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There is no rhyme or reason as to the layout here. Consider grouping your buttons into logical groupings, perhaps emphasizing some over others based on priority of use.

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If all the buttons are required to be shown show them as a drop down menu with actions(like the hamburger icon and the drop down using it) and if not change the buttons contextually(which is easy with the basic JS)

  • Thanks for your suggestion. I'm not sure a drop down solves the problem. Your suggestion would certainly remove the clutter, but it would still require the user to scan the list of items and read each choice to find what they're looking for. Also, FYI, this is a Window application, not a web page. – Barry Gilbert Oct 13 '14 at 19:48

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