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I want users to post questions or content under available categories and I have come up with the following idea:

mockup

download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

I believe that it would still be very difficult for users to select what they want to do. They have to be very specific about what they want. For example, Stack Overflow is a Q&A site where the user understands that posting a question requires a title and a question description.

How can I improve this design, so that the user can have a simple interface to either ask a question or post content under categories?

There are over 1000 categories and about 10,000 subcategories. So, I don't think it would be easier for the user to navigate to that subcategory. Additionally, if the user manages to get to a sub-category he/she will be confused by the many options to post what he/she wants.

  • Solving the navigation issue with 10 000 sub-categories can be tricky. Let me clarify some things first. 1. How much content exists under each sub-category? Is there always something there? Or is it mainly empty? 2. Is the "Add event" a global action? Or under a specific category? 3. What is the main desired action? What is the main action you want the user to do there? To view? To post? To ask? – Erkki Muuga Sep 5 '16 at 11:18
  • Thanks for your answer. Here is my input 1: Yes, there will be always something under subcategory, usually a feed will have around 500-1000 items. 2: Add event/question/content should be for specific subcategory. 3: User can view their feed, can post content they want to share or can ask question – Zerotoinfinity Sep 5 '16 at 11:31
  • More context is needed to know the purpose and value of this for your users. And is it really called “post content”? Asking a quesion is also posting content so it’s a very broad term. – jazZRo Sep 8 '16 at 12:11
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Emulate Stack Exchange as much as possible

Stack Exchange shares most of the design challenges that you are faced with and there solution has already been tested by millions of users. That doesn't mean it will be perfect but it is a good start. There are some notable differences between your situation and Stack Exchange,

  1. What you call categories, Stack Exchange calls tags.
  2. Your categories have a layer of hierarchy, Stack Exchange tags do not.
  3. Stack Exchange has one type of submission - a question, while you have three types - questions, posts, and events.

Categories and subcategories

I agree that traversing the category hierarchy before writing a post would be too much work. Consider associating posts and subcategories the way Stack Exchange treats adding tags to questions. Have your three submission options as top-level actions and let the user select the subcategories to file it under on the submission page. Note that I'm assuming that submissions must be associated with subcategories (and by extension a category) and can't be associated with a category only.

Stack Exchange allows the user to perform a search of tags on the question submission page as shown below.

enter image description here

If you make your subcategories accessible in this way it would make it easier for the user to find existing subcategories. The description shown for tags here is essential as well as it helps the user evaluate the fitness of the tag. However, this doesn't solve the problem of determining which of all the subcategories is most relevant. To help with this you may want to include related subcategories in your search results not just alphabetical matches.

If you think the user may become familiar with the category hierarchy over time you may want to give them the option to use category as a search filter. You may need to design keyword operators for this, to reduce the UI complexity. For example if you use ':' as a keyword operator for filtering results by category I can enter the search term - 'sport:ba' which will show results like 'baseball', 'bat' and related subcategories like 'glove'.

Filing a post under a subcategory seems to be an important requirement for you, so, I would consider placing the field for subcategory selection before the field(s) for writing the post.

User submissions and confusion

The degree of confusion your users will face is proportional to the degree of ambiguity in your interface. You mention that Stack Overflow users are clear on what is expected when submitting a question. I think this is because, Stack Overflow educates the user on how the site works, both in their onboarding and in the interface.

The interface for submitting a question, shown below, has all the cues to communicate what is expected to the user - a separate and labeled field for the title and an area for describing it. To be fair, the description area has no title or placeholder text for clarity. But, the 150 character limit on the title forces the user to eventually reach for the description field if it isn't immediately obvious.

User Experience Stack Exchange 'Ask Question' form

Placeholders may not be the best solution for educating a user on what information is expected according to the Nielsen Norman Group.

Summary: Placeholder text within a form field makes it difficult for people to remember what information belongs in a field, and to check for and fix errors. It also poses additional burdens for users with visual and cognitive impairments.

So you may want to consider placing field hints outside the field unlike Stack Exchange.

Submission Types

Consider improving the button texts for your submission pages. You can again copy from the Stack Exchange playbook and call Add question - Ask question. Post content is very vague so once you are clear on the type of content the user should post you can rename this. Remember, you need to guide the user if you want them to put content in the correct place.

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    Thank you for this wonderful detailed answer. Makes sense to me... – Zerotoinfinity Sep 20 '16 at 4:25
  • @Zerotoinfinity you're welcome. – Andre Dickson Sep 20 '16 at 9:52
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Reverse the work, you do the look-up.

Have the user enter a category name, tag, or related category name, and provide the user with categories that match that look-up. Making a user scroll through a list of 10,000 sub-categories is not realistic, or ever practical.

You might also consider changing your structure to help reduce the large breadth. Have another layer of categories that can better cluster your large number of categories. This may not be an option, but if it is, it might be a good idea to look into. Your interface is only as good as the model design of the data is interacts with.

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