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Ted Weatherly <[log in to unmask]>
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Ted Weatherly <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 27 Sep 2004 11:51:50 -0700
text/plain (94 lines)
I am developing a new web application and I'm considering two different
navigation schemes.  The first scheme is topic-based using tabs.  The
second scheme is task-based similar to the control panel in Windows.

Let's suppose this is an email management application.  The layout using
the topic-based tab scheme would look like:

  +----------------------+ +-----------------+ +----------------+
  | >Account Information | |  Mail Filtering | |  Mailing Lists |
-+                      +-+-----------------+-+----------------+-
   Name | >Password |  Permissions

(Main Content)

With this scheme, a user accomplishes a task by choosing the appropriate
topic tabs.  For example, to change his password the user would first
choose the "Account Information" tab, then the "Password" sub-tab.
While navigating to this page, the user sees the Account Information /
Name page, which is irrelevant to the task he needs to accomplish.

The second navigation scheme I'm considering is task-based, similar to
the Control Panel in Windows XP.  There would be a grid of icons labeled
with task descriptions:


+------+            +------+            +------+
| icon |            | icon |            | icon |
|      |            |      |            |      |
+------+            +------+            +------+

Manage your Name,   Manage Mail         Manage
Password, or        Filters and         Mailing List
Permissions         Spam Handling       Subscriptions

Returning to the task above, the user would click the first icon then see:

->Manage your Name, Password, or Permissions

+------+            +------+            +------+
| icon |            | icon |            | icon |
|      |            |      |            |      |
+------+            +------+            +------+

View/Update         Update your         View/Update your
your Name           Password            Permissions

The user would then click Update your Password and the resulting page
would display:

   _Manage your Name, Password, or Permissions_
->Update your Password

(Main Content)

Has anyone explored these schemes before?  Here are the usability
advantages/disadvantages that I forsee:

Topic-based (tab) scheme
PRO: User sees sibling/parent content while navigating to the
      appropriate page for his task, allowing him to become
      familiar with the site layout
PRO: Links to sibling and "uncle" content are easily accessible
PRO: Conventional design
CON: Topic names may be vague and mislead the user
CON: Navigation always consumes real-estate on the page, taking
      away space for the main content

Task-based (control panel) scheme
PRO: Navigation is organized in a task-based flow
PRO: Descriptive link labels and icons suggest the appropriate
      route to take
PRO: The user is not presented with main content that's
      irrelevant to his task
CON: Accomplishing a task may take more clicks
CON: User cannot easily envision the "Site Map"

Feel free to respond to me directly and I will post a summary of
responses later.