A couple of years ago I was working on a web application with a client. While working through the Information Architecture design we came up with two different approaches for interacting with the application that rely on two different conceptual models.

The first model “Where then what” is the fairly common approach used by most websites and web applications. You choose where within the site / application you’d like to do something and then you choose what you would like to do.

For example:

You might have an application that allows you to manage users. If you wanted to add a new user you would take the following steps:

  1. Navigate to the “Manage Users” area of the site.
  2. From the options choose “Add a new user”.
  3. Then follow the steps required to complete the task.

The second model “What then where” swaps the first two steps around. You decide you want to add something, then you choose where and what you’d like to add.

For example:

Taking the same task as before (adding a new user) the steps become:

  1. From the navigation choose “Add”.
  2. From the resulting options choose what you would like to add, in this case a “New User”.
  3. Then follow the steps required to complete the task.

Which is more logical?

For me the first example is the more logical. I don’t ever recall knowing that I’d like to add something to an application, but not knowing what I’d like to add. There are times though when I know I want to do something with a Users’ details, but I’m not sure how to. The first model allows me to find out how, by giving me a list of tasks that I can perform on user details.

Having said that the second, “what then where” model made more sense to one of the client team who was less technically experienced than the rest of the team, so I have to wonder if maybe this model is more suited to some users?

What do you think? Which makes more sense to you? Has anyone tried these two models with users?