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I have a complex process to step through and the nature of each step may change dependent upon the user's input into a preceding step. I am therefore tempted to change the titles of subsequent steps. Is this bad?

The intention is to make the steps part of an ongoing narrative as a part of the application. My worry is, if I can't change the step names, they must become very generic. This won't provide the necessary context that a user might need to understand the inputs of that step. Which in my mind is bad news for usability.

I can't find any guidance on Google's material guidelines, (where this pattern comes from). Any help is much appreciated.

2 Answers 2

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First of all, as I always say: Material Design is just a guideline.

You may or may NOT find the answers to specific proboems you may have. And sometimes, when it comes to UX the answer is quite dubious to say the least. However, good UX existed before Material, and will exist once Material is gone.

Now, it's true Material is quite generic on the stepper messages, which I think is a correct approach for modt cases. There will always be special needs, but of course they can't cover every special case, so you need to use your best judgment. However, Material offers something that may help in your case, see Steppers Page under the Stepper Feedback title.

As you will see in the video, their solution is to add transient messages after succesful completion of a step.

As for changing the messages of steps.... Yes, it can be done depending on how you define those messages and of course, barring testing. If the change of titles mean a totally new scenario, you'll probably confuse the user, after all a stepper is just an element with a binary logic step or action non-completed vs step or action completed. Material uses iconography and color to achieve this, and it's a good and proven UX technique.

Messaging

By default, a stepper is just a.... Step. So the name for each step is Step 1, Step 2, Step 3 ......... step N

Which of course can be shortened by using just numbers, like 1,2,3 and so on

So users know they have to complete a step. Thus, "step completed" or just a check mark is usually enough. You can describe what the step is about, for example "Step 1: enter your info"

However, in your case, you want to move away a bit from the rules, so the messaging should be something which binary conditions are related. For example :

"Start by growing a flower"

On complete:

"Flower has grown!"

Which is clear enough and related to the task performed. Something like:

"Now Let's kill dragons"

Might be related to the whole scenario, but it's confusing, because the user has no idea if the flowers have grown or not! So you need to always keep focus on the binary states of the task at hand

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  • Thanks for the input Devin, I am only thinking of cascading changes to titles based on decisions made in preceding steps. Thus, going into an earlier step would change the subsequent steps. The concern is of course that the user would lose the data entered into the steps they'd already completed. I am thinking this is okay though as it seems logical to presume the user wants to actively change an earlier decision to change their direction. I wish I had access to users for testing! I am reliant on guerilla testing on colleagues for the moment. Apr 15, 2016 at 16:02
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    ah, then with this new information, I think Material stepper is not the right choice for you, you're looking for a decision tree, and implementation might vary greatly depending on what you're looking for and the amount of steps
    – Devin
    Apr 15, 2016 at 16:38
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I would advise you not to do it as it can bring confusion among users, and thus abandonment of the process.

Imagine the user is currently at step 3 and wants to come back to step 2, however the name is changed. The user will start questioning itself:

  • Where did this step go?
  • Is it the same step?
  • Did it saved the data I've submited?

You don't want to cause confusion because this causes abandonment.

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  • Hi Kristiyan, thanks for your answer. I see your point and it is true that if the steps were not taken in a linear way this would cause confusion. However, if it is only subsequent steps that change based on an earlier step, is this just as confusing? ie decisions in step 3 will not affect the headings of step 2 or 1. Rather, the only way that headings would change is if an earlier step is changed. E.g. if step 1 is "what type of vehicle?" Step 2 will be based on the type so the heading might change from "how many seats?" for cars to "what capacity?" for vans. Apr 15, 2016 at 15:57

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