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I have a page (HTML) containing multiple tabs, all filled with various settings. Those settings are further divided into groups which are nothing more than separate REST calls to the server. Each group can be stored / restored separately. Settings are of all possible types: select, input, checkbox, tables with hundreds of items, etc.

I have looked around this site what best practice for modifying these settings would be, but I seem to have only encountered questions where the asker had already decided on what approach to use. To name a few:

  1. Save / revert buttons above &/ below the form (group of fields)
  2. Save / revert buttons next to each & every entry field
  3. General Save / revert button in page header, valid for entire page
  4. No button at all, data is stored in the background as it is entered by the user (possibly supported by alerts notifying user that changes have been stored)
  5. Page leave guard dialog prompting to save the changes
  6. Some that I missed?

I've seen many different implementations on the web, but each seems to have its shortcomings. Sometimes the user will want to be able to cancel all changes, sometimes they want to have everything stored as soon as they enter it, etc. I know I can't make everyone happy, but I do want something that will be intuitive, even if it's not a particular user's preferred way of entering data.

What is currently the most intuitive way of supporting the user while they enter / adjust hundreds of settings?

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You ask the most 'intuitive' way ... I think it is when user is able to 'know' at all times where he/she is while updating the settings. With hundreds of settings organized in groups, its easy to 'forget' what was changed and what was not during the course of huge update. A summary of log changes in the side bar (right side for ex: as shown in pic) would be invaluable. Log should also show when data was saved. For example user works with group 1 , changes bunch of check boxes, drop downs etc, the log should show each value change and time of save etc. It comes down to organization, proper intuitive grouping, UI separations (tabs, panels) or if it fits your model, tree structures where you can drill down to the data points (settings) etc.. Each section should have an auto save (again log showing in the right panel in real time).. I think this would be easy ,user friendly and more intuitive.

May be a check box to undo a change one by one or 'all' will be useful. Something as shown. I am sure I am oversimplifying, but hope it makes you think in the right direction.

enter image description here

  • We ended up implementing just this. Thanks for the tip. – velis Apr 1 '16 at 7:11
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The best solution I have seen so far is made by Intuit with their Online TurboTax product. The complexity of the domain is enormous, the price of a mistake is colossal. They've split the whole domain into groups of simple questions. By answering these questions users navigate their way in their tax report. If something is irrelevant to their particular case, the respective branch is not shown anywhere. There is also a multilevel, but intuitive navigation system enabling users to access the parts of their report, drill down, correct answers etc.

Applying this to your initial question, I would say that if you have a lot of settings which users can configure all it once, then this will lead to a confusion. That said, I would try to see, if we can split the universe of settings into smaller subsets, let user focus on a subset, provide navigation between the subsets.

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