Friday, July 23, 2010

6 Reasons Why a Wizard Is an Important UI Element

Among several ways to accept inputs from users, wizards are one of the popular UI elements. Not only the wizards offer simplicity of use, they are quite useful from the perspective of maintaining flow in a user interaction. Here are 6 reasons why you should consider using wizard when you need to accept a lot of input from the end user:

  1. They maintain the flow of user to reach a defined goal, e.g. installing a Windows based software. The objective of the entire wizard is generally (it should be) mentioned in the first screen of the wizard (as well as in the Help section if there is one). The idea is to make the users aware of the outcomes of their actions they should expect. This helps them decide whether they want to go ahead with it or not.

  2. Sets of related inputs are displayed on different screens. This avoids:
    • Cluttering of interface
    • Providing too much information on one screen and offering too much to read
    • Intimidating users with too many inputs to enter on one screen
  3. The smaller sets of inputs reduce possibilities of errors because of less information required at one stage, and because all the inputs to be provided are linked with each other. This also allows users to comfortably forget what they did in the previous screens.
  4. A wizard keeps the user engaged by displaying the progress being made in stages. Users often like to know the current stage they are at as well as any other pertinent information around their actions by that point.
  5. The most obvious and common information is already populated across screens. Therefore, a user can keep clicking the next button on most of the screens and still reaches the goal defined for the wizard.
  6. Importantly, the capability to click Cancel at any stage in the wizard and not letting any changes take effect unless the user wants, is what ensures that user can have a demo of all stages of the wizard without changing anything. This is particularly important in case of wizards on the Web pages. Quite often, you see websites requiring you to fill forms before you move on, but alternatively, you can navigate all the way through the wizard, view every stage, and then, decide if this was what you actually wanted. This results in a great user design in many cases!

Like all other UI elements, using wizards also suffers from its own downsides, and should be used with a careful consideration of alternatives.