User relevant information

The other day a friend asked me what to do with a design I had done two years ago for Digital Catalog. He told me that a user uses the comments section for relevant information about the discs, including condition and specs and the user complained about the fact that the comments are somewhat hidden.Capture
As you can see the comments are on the bottom-right corner of the application. This is also the same approach Microsoft used for Windows Vista, you have the list of files as the center point of the Explorer Window and the Details Pane on the bottomDetailsPane presenting the most relevant information about the selected file. The question is, where should this information be? There are at least 2 approaches to this problem, the current approach used in Digital Catalog and Windows Vista and another one similar but with the information on the top of the window. Microsoft had done this in the alpha stages of Windows vista.longhorn_4051_126 (2) This method gives you all the information you might want right in your face but the problem with this approach is that the window is too heavy! Everytime I look at this window it feels like it is going to fall in my face at any second. It a lot of information, menus, tools and related tasks but the fact is that this is a very plausible solution to solve the information problem. If we only had this two choices the best option would be to make it configurable at the user level, if the user doesn’t have much use for that information hide the details pane or show it on the bottom and if he really feels that the information is very relevant he could show the pane on top. It is mandatory that the design of the pane on the top is somewhat similar to the bottom pane and the top pane in particular has to pay a lot of attention to the “heavyness” of the design. A good way to handle this is using colors similar to the main body of the application but a bit darker or lighter to differentiate the parts.

In the particular case of Digital Catalog we have some other pretty solutions.03 In this concept you would have the items on the center and on the right the detailed information about the item. this raises only two problems in my opinion. First you might have a very high resolution or very few information to show and that would result in an enormous white bar right there for no good reason. The other solution would be to have the item information on the item itself, this would take some real estate to show all that information, but that could be done by expanding only the selected item..03 This solution limits the possible item visualizations (lists, tiles, details, etc) but would definitely solve the information problem, the question here is to opt between information vs visual diversity.

Please share your thoughts and opinions, and post some images if you can too.

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5 Responses to “User relevant information”

  1. zEro Says:

    Nice article!
    What i think about the subject, is that the user should make his choice! We, programmers, designers, etc, should provide the user with several options, and he should choose in accordance with its necessities. What is relevant information for one user, maybe it isn’t for another, i think nowadays, customization is the right attitude, implementing that, it’s another story!

  2. Bruno Silva Says:

    Right, I agree, but I think we should provide an excelent out-of-the-box experience. Such experience shouldn’t require the user to customize his interface, everything should be “right there” (or not, depending on the case). And my question is about the best experience for most users.

  3. thylux Says:

    Customization by the user is something to be careful messing with. Over-customization will lead to the loss of the identity of the applications’ interface and is always a good source of bugs and performance losses that may drive users away.
    I’m not against customization… As a user to many applications i believe that to be able to choose some aspects of my experience is very important. But, sometimes it’s better to not customize than doing it wrong. In the case of that particular aspect of Digital Catalog, i think it should be sufficient to use different background color when those fields have values, so that the user can easily perceive that there’s something written, as you’ve already stated.
    What Windows Vista had in their alpha releases to bring attention up to the bar was not only its position, but also its strong colors. But it’s too aggressive…

    I like the solution you’ve presented with the ‘Contacts’ window, because that would permit a more natural way to show/hide the information and would also allow to template the information bar to better match the type of contents to show.

    In the case of having the information with the item, it wouldn’t work so great in Digital Catalog, because of its hierarchical structure. Too confusing… Because of the number of indents to the information and the amount information necessary to present in itself.

    That version of Digital Catalog is built in Windows Forms, that isn’t that easily flexible to implement such solutions, but i hope that with WPF in the UX version that won’t be a problem…

  4. Bruno Silva Says:

    You’re right about the identity part. An application must use wisely its resources and avoid too much configuration. Most of the time all that configuration is unnecessary, most people will stay with the default configuration if it rocks, so that extra coding work and extra cycles on the client machine will be completely useless.

    About the strong colors in windows alphas you’re right, and I’ve mentioned that if you choose to present the information on top, the bar must have very light colors.

    As for the Digital Catalog content I have to disagree, I don’t know if you missunderstood me or something, but I didn’t want to represent DC with any of those screens, just the specific scenario on the listview, of course the treeview will remain with current data. So, showing the details of an item in the listview, inside the listitem, would work very well, and since WPF can adapt its visual to the type of content you could easily create different templates for each type of object (category, volume, folder, file…).

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