I'm currently working on a project that consists of a fairly lengthy
data entry activity.
Today, this process is done through filling out a series of paper forms,
which themselves are fairly. There is an initial set of forms, and then
depending on how those are filled out, other forms may be required. The
smallest possible set of forms consists of 12 full pages of data.
We are now working to put this process online. The original thinking was
to utilize a stepped process for moving the user through the forms
progressively. However, due to the type of information gathered, it
became clear that the user may not have all the information at once, so
he/she will need to skip past sections and be able to return to them later.
Due to the sheer size and length of this process, forcing a user to step
forward or backward through the forms to find the one he/she has data
for seems to intensive, so we plan to provide a navigation utility to
move to any particular section.
This also necessitates that a user be able to "save" their semi-complete
forms to return to later.
All of this has brought up the question of implicit saving of data vs.
user initiated save.
For example if I'm on one form, complete it and click a "next" button to
move to the next form, should the data I entered be automatically saved.
Most seem to expect it to be? What about the situation where I complete
one form and then jump to another in the process, not the previous or
next one, but say 5 steps away? Should my data be automatically saved?
And how about if I want to stop filing in the forms now, because I don't
have any more data to provide right now and need to go gather it so I
can fill it in later. Should there be an explicit "save" button for that
situation? And if so, doesn't having a save button for that situation
raise some consistency issues with the fact that the other two
situations don't require the user to manually initiate a save?
We are doing some user studies on paper prototypes to get a glimpse of
what the user would expect, but the results to this point have not
exposed a clear answer. I'd love to get some of your opinions.