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UI design - suggestions needed

I'm trying to find a better design for a GUI app, and I would like to hear some suggestions from you guys. I did not design the original app - I'm just tasked with improving it.  I'm having some difficulty thinking of the app in a different way, so I'm hoping you guys can give me some ideas to get me thinking outside of the box. 

The app currently starts up with a small window that contains a table that is a list of hardware devices, listed by name with status info about each device next to the name (the status info is not somethign that is easily represented by icons, etc).  In most usage scenarios there are between 1 and 8 such devices. In development there can be as many as 100 devices.

When the user double-clicks on a row of the table, it opens another,  completely separate window. A new window is spawned for each device the user double-clicks on.

There's a number of problems with the design in general, but the worst things are:

1) It doesn't really suit the case where there is only one device (which is actually the most common case of all)

2) I would like to find a way to display the list -vs- the details without having to open orphaned windows all over the place. There's not really enough space to have both the list and the details window in the one frame. The list is fairly wide, so displaying them in panes side by side doesn't really make much sense (and isn't really usable anyway).

One thought I had was to have an app that opens each details window in another tab, much like the tabbed browser windows in Mozilla/Firefox. But that doesnt leave anywhere to put the device list, which must always to be available (if there is more than one device) for the user to view the list and status info.

Does anyone know of any mainstream apps that tacke a similar problem? I would like to see how other people have tackled the problem of making it possible to select items from a list of items, and view the details -- in such a way that the list is always readily available. I would particularly love to see how the guys at Apple would solve a problem like this, since I've always admired their ability to design good UIs.

GUI Joe
Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Maybe something similiar to how Outlook works?

List of devices down one side with a details frame next to it? Default to the first device so that with only 1 device it's always displayed?

Jack of all
Wednesday, May 12, 2004

i second the above suggestion.
In addition to that, you can consider having a button based Next, Prev browsing mechanism.


Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Since you said that having 2 pains side-by-side isn't readable because of how wide the list is, maybe a "stacked" solution is better:

The top 3/4-ish of the app is your list control, with a vertical scroll bar if needed

The bottom 1/4 is filled with the various labels/txt boxes/etc that display the details of the selected device.

When the program loads, the details of the first device are loaded. 

Shane

Shane Harter
Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Stacked should do it. Another option would be to expand the selected list item in place so it becomes a multi-line list item.

A more important design question has to be answered though. What is the user doing while looking at these lists? Is it just a report? Can they do something with the row they select? Think of the flow through the application and the presentation will take care of itself.

Tom H
Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Look at Sherlock on Mac. Sherlock is a name of FindFiles
on Mac and after you perform searces on volumes or
internet it has interface looking like what you've described,
displaing a list and details of selected item on the bottom.

You should both check it on OS 9 and X and see if you
like any of them.

VPC
Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Thanks for the suggestions guys. I think it's possible that the requirement to see the list of devices at all times is not really a requirment. If that's the case, it makes things a lot easier since I can then just make the list a dialog with a list box.

If it does turn out to be a genuine requirement, then I'll probably have to go with a horizontally split/stacked pane arrangement.

GUI Joe
Wednesday, May 12, 2004

You might want to hire a UI designer who could really give the problem full attention. The kinds of issues you describe (1-N items in the set, how to display detail in context, how to navigate items) are quite common.

If that's not an option, steal the behavior from applications your users already know. Email clients, especially Outlook, are often decent frameworks for browsing sets of data and details.

In general, opening multiple windows to solve UI problems is not that good. Even for so-called "power users" it can be needlessly frustrating. 

ao
Tuesday, May 18, 2004

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