Designing a long list of items that people must choose from.

1 Sep 2009 - 9:33am
6 years ago
2 replies
2176 reads
Paul Trumble


I'm looking for some advice, examples or even recommendations of who might
be good at solving this particular problem for us.

In the context of a longish multi-page web form we have a need for the user
to tell us at a fairly granular level what their occupation is. the total
length of the list is long, more than 1,000 choices. The accuracy of the
answer is pretty important to our business as is our desire not to stop the
users flow through the application because of either the difficulty or
perceived intrusiveness of the question. I should add that most users don't
view the question as being necessary based on their understanding of what
they are filling out.

Currently we use an introductory question (labeled currently 'industry', but
in the past 'line of work' - the better version) to narrow down the list of
occupations that are presented to the individual. This approach may well be
the best solution to a difficult problem, but it brings a little emotional
and cognitive overhead with it. Regularly when we observe users they will
grumble that we are asking the same question twice, less so with the 'line
of work' label I believe.

Part of the problem with we have with this approach is that the choices in
the industry list are not very good. The selections for industry are
confusing and users don't always grasp that if their occupation is not
showing up as a choice the solution to the problem might be to choose a
different industry. The actual list has some regulatory constraints and a
fair amount of internal political baggage.

We are looking for a way to develop a new taxonomy that might make the
process more understandable to the user, while preserving the level of
detail the business requires. Card-sorting doesn't seem like a good tool
here since ultimately we need to know how individual users categorize their
own occupation, not how they classify a list of occupations with which they
have varying degrees of familiarity. Because of the regulatory constraints
we can't experiment with different versions of the list at any given time.
We've used surveys to test particular taxonomies in the past. Generally
surveys have proved a good way to rule things out, not develop something
that works well.

What thoughts do you all have on this? I really haven't found any examples
of folks who do something similar well. I'm interested in advice, or if you
know someone (or if you are someone) who could do a good job of putting a
new taxonomy together that would be good too. We may well have to bring in
the magic aura of expertise that only consultants possess in order to sell
any changes.

You can email me directly or reply to the list. Thanks in advance.

Paul Trumble

Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana. - Groucho Marx


1 Sep 2009 - 10:35am
Chris Heckler

It seems like having some kind of auto-complete text field to narrow
down choices based on a keyword input by the user might be a good
part of the solution. For instance, someone could type in
"designer" and get back all titles that include
"designer"--interior designer, graphic designer, interaction
designer, etc. It would also be nice if the search could present
possible other matches if nothing was found on the initial keyword.
This would be in addition to a more structured presentation of
choices based on industry, etc.

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1 Sep 2009 - 10:39am
Chris Heckler

Oops looks like Bryan already submitted the auto complete idea.

:) Darn my distracted typing.

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