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I am designing an interface for an application in which operators have to enter the dimensions of boxes they are handling. They place each box on a flat surface, and then use a tape measure. This has to be done at some speed in a fairly confined space.

I am thinking of displaying something along these lines. Drawing of box with input fields

The operator would use the numeric keypad to enter the data, and tabbing would move from entry field to entry field (I would probably reassign one of the keypad buttons to function as a tab key).

The boxes vary enormously, so while this shape might resemble most, others could be almost packetlike (i.e. very low in height).

The question I have is this: is this graphical representation really useful, or would three vertically arranged entry fields be better? Or is there another way altogether?

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    Do the boxes have consistent orientation (e.g. is there always a TOP or a label facing upwards)? If YES, then how can you tell the orientation. If NO, then height, width and depth are totally interchangeable.
    – tohster
    Mar 27 '15 at 18:22
  • We can't always change underlying processes as a designer but is it clear why 3 numbers need to be input here? Could it be done with less input from the user such as weight?
    – DaveAlger
    Mar 27 '15 at 19:25
  • Is there a functional difference in your system between a 3x5x10 box and a 10x3x5 box? Mar 27 '15 at 20:19
  • everybody knows what width, height and depth of a box is. So there is really no need for a drawing. Input fields should be in a row so that users don't need to move eyes. If there are more complex objects a drawing makes sense
    – daniel
    Mar 27 '15 at 21:48
  • You can get dimensions by digital photo. I bet you could do this with two regular phones on tripods and regular measuring apps (I know higher-level software can do it). Someone would just have to place the box in front of the phones and take a pic. You could also photo the boxes sitting on a square-inch grid with a stand-up ruler which would make the dimensions readable by eye if needed.
    – moot
    Mar 28 '15 at 22:25
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... is this graphical representation really useful, or would three vertically arranged entry fields be better?

three vertically arranged entry fields is better


I researched this question by looking at some websites that handle a lot of packages and none of them tried to tie the Length, Width, and Height inputs to a visual model of a box.

The reasons for this vary but as you noted in your question a package could be "packetlike (i.e. very low height)" and showing any image at all could make a user wonder -- Are packets handled some other way?, Which number do I put where?, etc.

Here is an example from the FedEx website...

fedex

Since the only required field is Package Weight I would suggest that FedEx remove all the other fields on this form. Not because it isn't clear which fields are optional but because every single thing we put on a page adds cognitive friction (makes us think). Will I get a better rate if I measure the package?, What the heck is a Carriage value anyway? An important part of design is to remove barriers and make things simpler so before I add any input to any mock-up I ask myself these things:

  1. If the user didn't provide this could I still get the job done? (if Yes then don't put it there)

  2. Is it clear to the user why providing this value helps them? (if No then offer clarification)

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Visual representation is always good, but here are several notes for your specific case.

  1. Operators enter same data each time, a lot of repetitive data.
  2. Operators will look at the screen rarely and often to validate the input only.

Try to think about these two things and you will possible note that it's OK to put dimensions in a simple row with a predefined order, like this:

mockup

download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

Because it's more important that operators will be able to quickly scan the data for validation rather for the input: it's always same three dimensions so I can input them not even looking at the screen (especially, if I done that already a hundred of times), but I have to look at the screen if I need to check that numbers are correct. And it's always better to look at the same part of the screen and not jump all over it trying to find the next input.

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