Last week I took an hour to evaluate the Ask A Question page design over at http://superuser.com. Jeff and the community provided some valuable feedback in the comments on that post as well as this meta discussion. A single hour isn't really enough to do a good job looking at an end to end user experience so I decided to take this weeks Coding Friday to examine the feedback and look more closely at the overall user flow to see if we can improve things to keep the proposed redesign largely intact.
The Related Questions feature is probably one of the most important for this page -- it helps users find answers AND helps to prevent duplicate questions from being asked. In response to my suggestion we move this to the right side bar Jeff responded...
"I don't think we can get away with removing the "How to Ask" entirely -- you assume mightily about the competence of our audiences :) And if we can't get rid of that, that means the sidebar is now unavailable for the related questions."
I agree with Jeff the 'How to Ask' section is important to the audience -- and I think I've got an idea which helps put it front and center while at the same time respecting returning users and preserving the Related Questions side bar.
But before we go there, let's take a look at the overall user progression and note some of the outstanding issues.
- User navigates to the Ask Question Page.
- When user leaves the Title field the Related Questions appear.
- User types their question text.
- User selects a Related Question.
- User selects OK and is navigated to the related question page.
- User presses the Back button in their browser to return to their question.
- User leaves the Title field.
There are four issues we need to resolve with this user experience…
- Whether the user has visited this page once or hundreds of times the 'How to Ask' and 'How to Format' sections are present.
- Related Questions between Title and question text pushes the preview below the fold.*
- User gets a dialog box and is navigated away from their question when they select a Related Question.
- When I return to my question the Related Questions section has disappeared until such time I leave the Title field.
*Note: Even though Jeff thinks the fold is largely irrelevant it is important to consider for the task he originally lamented: Keeping users from posting incorrectly formatted questions. Being able to see the live preview as I type will generally aid in this area -- therefore we should strive to keep the preview above the fold if possible.
And here are some suggestions to address the 4 issues identified above with the end to end user experience.
- Make 'How to Ask' a dialog which is presented the first X time(s) a user enters this page, where X is 1 to 5.
- Revise 'How to Format' in the right column with a bounding box to separate from the balance of the page.
- Replace 'How to Format' with the Related Questions when the user leaves the Title field.
Open any Related Question in a new window, preserving my question and Related Questions at all times.