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I have a web page with a menu on the left. Each choice can bring to either:

  • A single page
  • A wizard
  • Or a hierarchical series of pages, where I can drill down.

     Left panel        Right side
    
     Item 1 ---------> single page
     Item 2 ---------> wizard
     Item 3 ---------> hierarchical
     Item 4 ---------> wizard
    

Now, I want to add something to allow the user to go back more easily in hierarchical or wizard pages.

I thought about using a breadcrumb, but it works well only for hierarchical pages. I cannot use it in wizards or single pages.

I want to have my pages coherent, so I was thinking to a different solution. Any idea?

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For wizards, you could use a step navigation system (like Google's "steppers"). A component like that would serve many purposes: give users the right affordances to move throughout the process, tell them where they are and how many steps they have left, and tell them at a glance that they are in a linear process.

  • Yes, but having this only in some of the pages is not coherent and confusing for the user. In the pages that are hierarchical or single pages, the user would find a different navigation system. – user1883212 Feb 10 '16 at 14:19
  • @user1883212 Is that opinion based on tests you have run? It seems to me that it would be perfectly appropriate to use different local navigation systems on pages that relate to their peers differently. – Nate Green Feb 10 '16 at 14:23
  • Ok, I understand. Does it make any difference if I also have the left-control panel always active? That means the user can also always click in one of the main links in the left menu, that will bring him to the top level. – user1883212 Feb 10 '16 at 14:30
  • @user1883212 My guess is no, but you should probably mock it up or prototype it out and try it with users. :) Even just a quick test with a few coworkers (not designers or devs) or family members can be revealing. – Nate Green Feb 10 '16 at 14:42
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For Hierarchical series of pages, you may consider using multi-level menu or simply a dropdown showing all the sub-items so user can easily navigate back to the pages. You may add the option to add a next button depending on what your content is and if your goal is to guide the user to view all the sub-items.

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For the Wizard, I would agree that it would be appropriate to add a step wizard navigational system. I don't think it will hinder you from putting another navigational system on your web page unless your usability tests tells you it's confusing your users.

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The work around here though is to choose the appropriate design that would enhance usability for your users. For example this step wizard. It provides a meaningful guide on where the user are, at the same time, design won't be confused to the menu on left.

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N.b. The following answer is based on you wanting to return to the page you were on before linking off to one of these sub page types.


Wizard

Using a cancel button within the wizard pages should return the user to the page they first linked to the wizard from.

Hierarchical

Using a breadcrumb will allow users to navigate back through the hierarchy, but a main link above this breadcrumb could be used to return the user to the page they first linked to the first hierarchical page from.

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It's fine to have two or more different models, so long as users can intuit them as different by the design. (Caveat - you can only tell if something is intuitive by testing it, naturally)

Think of your wizard as a portal to a different world or dimension, where you, the user, have a task to complete. You can step back through the portal to where you began, with the task incomplete. If you complete your task, you are returned from whence you originally came, with a gold star and a t-shirt (or confirmation message).

In my experience users do tend to understand when they are in this type of closed-loop dimension, and the temporary lack of breadcrumb doesn't bother them.

The bit that they can struggle with is understanding whether their incomplete actions will be saved or not if they cancel. Different discussion

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