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I am working on a financial web application where user needs to generate reports. The reports are text files containing a lot of information (3000 lines may be) and of size 1 MB.

I thought of 2 ways:

  1. Open the report in a separate tab on web.
  2. Download and view.

These reports are pretty low risk. They can however sometimes contain bank details, so download could be an issue with this. However, retaining these reports will be required for some users. I guess the ability to download to files could be something that is configurable. However it would seem to me that user could still cut and paste bank details such as account number from a web page report, so I don’t know I preventing downloads will help much.

Can anyone help me to figure out the an appropriate way from usability perspective?

  • did you consider creating encrypted pdf files the user can view? that way interception and caching shouldnt be a problem. even tho i think it can be brute forced look into things like that. – downrep_nation Sep 22 '15 at 10:56
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    You've got compliance questions to deal with before you deal with UX, when it comes to people's financial records. But do you really need to download the bank data -- can you blank/mask those fields in the format supplied to the user? Then you need to think about what the users are supposed to be doing with the data, and what format it should be supplied in (non-copy pdf isn't much use if they need to plot their own graphs, as well as not being secure). – Chris H Dec 21 '15 at 15:40
  • For the security aspect, be sure to check in at Information Security. – plainclothes Aug 17 '16 at 22:04
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You seem to have two major concerns here:

  1. The usability case - how do people use the information?
  2. Security - How do you best protect sensitive data?

You'll have to strike a balance between these two if they conflict. Where that balance is depends on the type of data, but also your stakeholders.

To know what it best for your uses you first have to know your users. What kind of information are they seeking, and how and when do they want to use it? If they need to information now, downloading and opening with an external application will be tedious and annoying. If they need the information for later, logging in and generating the report each time will be annoying.

As you say, you can always provide options, like show the report as a web page but also provide a download button where the user can easily get a copy as a file. With the little information in your question, this is the approach I would take.

As to opening in a new tab, I would avoid it unless it is unnecessary.

From a security point of view, remember that pages can be cached, printed, downloaded...

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Seems like your options are less to do with actual usability (e.g. readability or ease-of finding the right information) and more to do with accessibility given information security requirements (which is a bit of technical and business requirements).

Better ways of displaying or presenting heavy text-based content would be looking into things like breaking up (chunking) content into smaller bite-size sections that are easier to consume, using headings of different levels to help with scanning, etc.

Or even better still, visualizing the text in a graphical format to highlight key content or provide additional insights. That way the information will be retained more easily as well.

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