Monday, May 10, 2004

A tree on the left

Recently I found myself staring at another Enterprise Software Application (ESA) that uses a tree structure as primary navigation. A tree structure on the left is usually not the right choice for navigation in such applications.
  1. Typically in ESAs, the tree is composed of artifacts like actions, files, and tasks. This type of hybrid scheme is confusing as it makes it difficult for users to make a consistent mental model.
  2. A non-consistent mental model increases memory load and makes learning difficult.
  3. To find any action, file, or a task, a user usually take many points and clicks.
  4. Though pointing and clicking seems lightning fast, but remember Fitt's Law - each point and click takes a whooping 1 to 1.5 seconds!
  5. A tree structure offers poor help to find and select next logical task after completing the current one. It forces users to learn the next logical step.
  6. People use spatial memory to find artifacts on a screen. However, the tree structure does not support spatial memory - makes it harder to find artifacts. It also increases the time to find artifacts.


Rohan D'souza said...

I agree with you. It often takes finger point accuracy to view the contents of the tree. Which raise accessibility issues?

Trees are best I guess to view content, or to make ‘selections’ with limited fields.
Some well known applications like People Soft/ Oracle Apps use this approach of navigation.

The real fact is, it is easier to program and store content. And the development/ functional team usually adopts it to lower their own one time cognitive load and gift it to the ultimate users.

I myself faced it in a project and ultimately the Functional people won.


ripul said...

Hi Rohan,

It is a lot of cognitive and motor load to accurately point and click elements in a treeview. With motor issues, it is definitely an accessibility issue - you pointed it right.

Can you send me some screenshots of peoplesoft to show this. I know they do this - but no screenshots.

Actually, its quite difficult to program tree views accurately. But, its either the management or the client who "likes" tree views. And, the poor developer must "do it."

As UI engineers, we must propose better alternative approaches, rather than just saying that "tree views are bad."

I am preparing some alternatives that I propose my clients. Any ideas anyone?

- Ripul

Rohan D'souza said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rohan D'souza said...

A close representation. :)

- Rohan