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I am designing a forum related to certain academic topics with features similar to Stack exchange sites. I have designed a web layout to facilitate easy navigation between the post overviews & the entire post. In stack exchange sites there's a need to switch to the question's page to see the entire post but in my layout the post data is displayed just beside the post overviews. This works very similar to twitter's new UI. The below shown image just shows a snapshot of how this may work.

Proposed layout

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Have a look at this tag wiki article and questions in tag for related patterns.

Varying the Area Allocation

The key problem you have here is that questions and answers are competing for space. It's a trade off, and it's not a fixed trade off. Sometimes answers will be more important, sometimes questions.

To solve that I'd make the boundary between the left and right draggable so the user themself can choose to see more-questions/more-answers on a page. I'd also make the question height draggable up and down, so the user can see just the question, question+who, question+who+when, question+who+when+start-of-best-answer, question+who+when+best+answer+tags. I'd additionally move the tags above the first answer. I hope someone else can give an argument for or against moving the tags higher. For me it just feels better.

I've used that variable-height approach to master-detail to control how much of the detail to show on search results from a protein database search. It turned out that there were two levels of detail users liked best - corresponding here to question and question+who+when, and they would toggle back and forth between them, using the most compact format to scroll and scan quickly. That experience suggests that by default you should in fact move the first answer to the right column, along with the other answers, as that will allow faster scanning of the questions.

Distinguishing The Columns

I'd also work at distinguishing the two columns more. At the moment with peripheral vision they have near identical appearance, bar the color tie. With more distinctiveness it will be easier for the eyes to switch back and forth between questions and answers.

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  • +1 Gave me a number of ideas for a desktop app as well. Commented Jun 5, 2011 at 7:10
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what happens when you open the fifth question? will you be able to see the first answer from the top?

The classic 'click on question opens answers' will work better.

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  • yes you'll see the answers column fully! As you scroll down, you just scroll along the left column vertically, very similar to twitter Commented Jun 6, 2011 at 17:21

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