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I am working on an addition to a page where university students can get an estimate of the work remaining for them to finish their degree. Essentially the page as it exists today allows them to choose their degree from a dropdown, hit run, and a report comes back (below the dropdown/button form) with the work they have completed and the work that is left to do. The page looks something like this:

mockup

download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

What I am trying to add, is a way for them to load reports that they have already run. This interaction is less likely to occur than running a new report, so I am trying to integrate it in a way that is subtle enough to not distract from the main functionality, while also being findable.

My thought is to include the "Previously Run Reports" list as a separate tab along with Undergrad, Graduate, and Professional. However, as it is a means of accessing and loading an already run report rather than a way to run a new report, it seems like it should be treated slightly differently. I am thinking of having the 3 tabs that allow students to run new reports remaining together, and present the "Previously run" tab a little outside of the group.

mockup

download bmml source

To my question. Can anyone point towards an interface that works this way, or know of any research that points towards help in assessing the usability of multiple tab-groups? Alternately, any ideas on alternate ways to enable users to select previously run reports?

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    Why not just have a list to the side with recent choices/history? Is there a reason why they need to be hidden under a tab? (Also, I'm wondering if the tabs are necessary to begin with or if you could use a better solution, but that's another question) – Josef Engelfrost Sep 23 '15 at 22:28
  • Did you do some user research with your students to find out why and when they want to reload previous reports? You won't be able to convince the "university higher-ups" to invest in a comparison feature (if that's what your students need) if you can't present evidence that it's needed. The research will not only give you arguments inside your organization, but it will also give you hints for the design. – virtualnobi Dec 23 '15 at 7:51
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You're committing the cardinal sin of school interface design. You're adding unnecessary features. The user has one task "Select a degree". How is a "Previously Run" feature going to help them? Can't I just simply select my degree again and generate another report?

So, my recommendation is don't add it. Your navigation needs to serve a clear and useful purpose. From what you've posted above, it's simply adding another layer of complexity.

  • While I agree that this is a secondary feature, I would disagree that it is unnecessary. There are cases where students WOULD want to see reports they have run before. In particular, loading a previous report takes a bit of time (5-10 seconds), so we have found that students like loading them for different degrees, and then comparing them using the "previously run" feature, which loads immediately since it is only data presentation at that point. They also tend to do the comparison and analysis work over multiple sessions, so returning to a report saves them time and organization effort. – Rath_Er Sep 24 '15 at 16:13
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    In that case, add a comparison feature. Not a report feature. You're adding another step for them, not solving a problem. Let them compare a couple of variables, then present the side-by-side comparison. i.e. "you've completed X, Y and Z classes" Here is how you can use them towards other majors... – Paul Dessert Sep 24 '15 at 16:21
  • Agree with @PaulDessert that if the purpose is comparison, having the documents to be compared in different tabs/windows is a very frustrating experience, requiring the user to switch between different tabs for every line to be compared. – Eric Stoltz Nov 23 '15 at 20:51
  • I agree with both of you. However, the data output is not organized and managed in a way that direct comparison is even possible. We would have to completely re-do how the university manages pre-requisites and other requirements, add a new system, and otherwise embark on huge changes. Until the higher-ups decide to do that, this is what we're left with. Not perfect, but, I (and the students who use this feature I imagine) would argue, better than nothing. – Rath_Er Dec 2 '15 at 19:56
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You could put a sidebar widget which shows the recent reports viewed by the student (Assuming this as important, according to your notes). This would enable a quick view facility and avoid switching tabs everytime.

Attached an example -

enter image description here

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I would recommend to put it as a hyperlink on the right hand side of Run button (something like "View old reports") so that it won't grab as much attention as a new tab.

Just like how most of the banks do it for bank statements (where you can choose your account and see the statement as well as being able to have hyperlinks to different time stamps and view old statements if needed.) Screenshot of Chase bank statements

  • Pretty sure the user would like to find the report by major, not by date. How would they remember what date they ran a report on pre-med v. the date they ran a report on psychology? – Eric Stoltz Nov 23 '15 at 20:53
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If you really need it (but do user research first, please, see my comment to OP), and without any information about the use case (I really shouldn't do it, but I can't resist :-) ...

I'd expect the previous reports in the categories they were created in (under, grad, prof). (You don't want to compare an under report with a prof report, or do you?) I'd experiment with adding a second level of navigation, containing the creation of a new report plus a selection of the old ones (how many will there be? will they age, be archived, become irrelevant?).

But this little paragraph already contains enough questions for at least one day of research. Once you've done that, think about the design.

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