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Bad Sidebars and Platform App UX

This is my sidebar in JIRA.

19 items! That’s objectively too many. I wondered what would happen if my screen wasn’t as tall. How does it adapt? I shortened my screen height and then refreshed the browser.

Do you see it?  The scroll bar in the middle of the sidebar? This is how I feel right now:

How is that the intended UX?  I don’t know what the default sidebar includes, but there should be no possible way to make my sidebar have a scrollbar.

If I expand the sidebar to the right, I get this:

Although this is better in some regards, it’s still way too much information for a normal user to grok.

Let’s make the assumption that the problem is difficult. There are plugins and apps that want to use some of your real estate. The answer of “just jam them in on the left” isn’t good enough. The design team needs to work with engineering on more scalable solutions.

Salesforce has a similar problem with tabs, but they handle the overflow a little better. Plus, icons alone are usually not explanatory enough.

Platforms like JIRA and Salesforce need to take some cues from Windows and MacOS for how to organize applications at scale. Both operating systems have tabs and docks, but they are dynamic and customizable. It’s extra work, but it’s required to make the experience scalable for many apps in your platform.

I wonder how many people in the world get to design this specific problem. How do we scale our web application UI to handle apps?  Probably less than 500 people worldwide, that is my guess. It’s a difficult job, I don’t mean to just complain without at least some ideas for a better way.

Ideas for a Better Way
The approach I would try is to create a desktop, start menu, and dockbar for the application. Currently, the standard is using dashboards and a sidebar. Dashboards are notoriously useless and sidebars are too limited. (as seen above)

This is an area I can customize as a user with folders, apps and widgets. It’s what I log into. By having folders and widgets I can scale out exactly what I need. The widgets would be app driven as well, so 3rd parties could make customized functionality. So not just a dashboard, a launching point which may or may not include some charts. Here is an example of how desktops could be implemented.

Start Menu
Windows 7 did this quite well. It has recently viewed items and apps, but most importantly, it has a search. This is available from any page. Ideally, this start bar would allow some commands, such as “New Ticket” or “New Lead”.

This can be on the top, side, or bottom. It contains recent apps or issues or tickets. You can “pin” some to the bar if you use them all the time, but otherwise, it is just your “open tabs”. The browser has tabs, but I would prefer my application to stay contained inside one browser tab. Therefore, it would need a system of subtabs. I believe Salesforce would benefit from this more than any other platform.

These are operating system ideas. Web Applications, especially platform apps like Salesforce and Atlassian need to add that kind of functionality to scale and maintain good UX. Operating systems have some good features. Copy them!

Ok, I feel better now. I didn’t just complain.


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