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This is quite similar to this question, but not quite the same.

I have a widget--to be called Widget 1--in a desktop application that is a combobox/dropdown, which is a field that allows you to type in it, but also has a button that drops a dropdown that presents choices. The user therefore can either type right into the combobox, or choose on of the choices. (I am hoping to add auto-completion for typing as well).

I've recently thought that it would enhance the utility of the application if the choices could be organized in about 5 or so different ways, depending on the use case of the user. Those could be alphabetical, or in a tree structure by category, or in other ways (below I just show some example adjectives, like "alphabetical", "chronological", etc).

For this reason, I want to have a way for the user to choose the way in which Widget 1's dropdown contents are organized.

What is the best way to do this?

For now, I have a second widget--Widget 2--to the right of Widget 1. Widget 2 is a standard choice widget that allows the user to choose the way Widget 1's dropdown contents are organized.

And both of these are immediately above another section of the GUI, a list control.

See these two images to quickly get the idea:

The setup with "how to show choices" choice widget not popped

The setup with "how to show choices" choice widget popped

Although this layout has some advantages (the user can immediately see how s/he has the organization of the choices, and the dropdown and its text is clear as to what it does, I think), it looks, to me, really clunky and ugly, and possibly misleading, in the context of the whole GUI. (For the sake of brevity, I'll leave out why). I also think that although the user's being able to select the way in which Widget 1's dropdown contents are displayed is a good thing for the application, it's usually not the main focus of use, and should not take up much visual real estate--certainly not as much as Widget 1 itself.

So, then: What other ways might be better? I was thinking of the following options:

  • A small button to the right of Widget 1. User clicks it, and it presents a popup menu from which the user can choose the way Widget 1's dropdown contents are organized.
  • Right clicking on Widget 1 presents that popup menu.
  • That menu is in the application's menu bar, under a menu header something like "Values display" (get a better term!).
  • ????
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Your screenshot makes it very clear that widget2 controls the grid that's located under it - both because the widget is above the grid and because it's following widget 1 (as opposed to preceding it). I had to read the question twice before I understood that it actually controls widget 1. So I'd argue that this is not a good solution.

It would be easier for your users to develop the right mental model if widget 2 was inside widget 1, for instance something like this:

mockup

download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

  • Alternatively,if you have access to some of your users, you are probably better served by trying to get users to engage in a card sorting exercise to see what method makes the most sense for them, and simplifying the interface by removing the need for that second widget – Nathanael Nov 7 '15 at 23:44
  • Strictly speaking that's not card sorting (that's for optimizing your information architecture), but yes, user research should definitely help to focus on a single best sorting method. – Vitaly Mijiritsky Nov 8 '15 at 6:16
  • True, but my feeling is that when the exercise is so similar as to be more or less functionally identical, (write a list on cards, ask the user to sort them into the order they think makes the most sense) you might as well not obfuscate things with additional terminology. – Nathanael Nov 8 '15 at 8:18

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