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I have inherited a piece of software that is used to catalogue objects using a series of 6 dropdown menus with around 3-15 options in each. Once all selections are made the user can click a button to move on to the next object. I am looking for ways in which I can reduce the repetitive actions required by users.

My first thought was simply adding hotkeys, but I don't know well they could work with such an array of menus and options.

My second thought was to have a single menu appear at a time that would progress to the next menu with a single click on an option. This would also allow a single simpler list of hotkeys that would change on each menu. The problem would be that if data stays the same between objects this single menu system would require 6 clicks to get to the next object, but this could be solved with a button on the first screen to confirm data is the same. I think this would also need more screenspace as the old menus would still be needed to change any options set incorrectly.

Are there any other thoughts on how I could minimise the amount of actions needed?

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    have you got any screenshots? it's difficult to recommend anything without a better understanding of the current journey. – Midas May 9 '16 at 15:52
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    I second Midas' request for screenshots / wireframes. – Mayo May 9 '16 at 15:53
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A good idea for this problem is defaults.

There are two ways you can do this, observe common patterns in the selections and provide them as a set options, the selection of one of which would autofill all of the options in the six drop-downs.

Or, you can let users save their defaults, meaning they could configure common option sets and re-use.

It would also then be possible to choose the closest default and only leave one or two drop-downs to change.

In the case of complex sets of options (for example, six drop-downs with 3 - 15 options each could easily produce 50 defaults), you could float the most recently used options to the top, or let users configure groups of options that are closely related. Then they could process entries in batches that shared similarities. This is a more expert option, I'd assume here users doing a complex task (somewhat implied by the number of options) and that as such they'd be learning a specific interface.

Something else to consider is opening up the options. A dropdown requires more than one key-press or click to select, why not open the options up as radio-buttons? This would allow one click selection, easier learning for new users as well as adding in the possibility that a user can work with patterns of selected positions on a screen rather than text shown in drop-downs. You could even give them a toggle so they could choose their preference.

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Optimize navigation

Make sure users could logically tab through each control and make selections without the mouse. I think it could also help if each dropdown supports type ahead to pick faster

Consider Templates?

Allow users to save the object description as a named template. Next time user could just pick the template and all of the fields could be populated. User can still edit what is different

Usage?

Take a look at usage and see which optional fields are used the most. You could consider hiding fields that are rarely used since they could be adding work for the majority of cases (e.g. tabbing to pass through them)

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If each of the drop-downs only holds ~15 items, then using your suggestion of having each drop-down menu appear one after the other (after each choice) might be along the right lines. One way to speed up the process could be to generate each option of the lists into groups of small, clickable elements.

The benefit is that you're instantly taking out 1 click/touch from every selection; the user isn't first having to click the drop-down menu to show the choices, and then click their chosen option. A second benefit is how simple it could then be to find your option. Possibly order the elements with the value descending/ascending to make searching by eye more intuitive. Over time the user will become accustomed to the positions of all of the options on screen, and getting through this process will eventually speed up.

Now you of course have to give the user the ability to change their mind on one of the options, so how about fixing the selected element somewhere on screen, and upon clicking a selected element, bring the choices from that selection back to the screen to allow the user to choose again.

If you're aiming to have the system on mobile devices this method will work well too; having large touchable areas on screen for selection is a lot more user friendly than restricting the user to a drop-down on mobile; it creates more work and slows the process up.

Hopefully you can feed off these ideas and come up with a good solution.

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For the case where data is the same between the objects I'd recommend that instead of going through each single object individually you enable users to first select multiple objects and then catalogue all of them in one go.

If the data varies slightly between the objects you could remember selections from the previous go, and possibly put all the options in six groups, uncollapsed, on one screen.

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