I am not a big fan of Inline Edit design pattern in web applications….you will see why shortly!
Inline Edit pattern enables users to edit text directly on the same page instead of navigating them to another page for editing the text.
There are various ways in which you can design the UI inline edit feature and I will discuss many of those today.
Basically, you can design inline edit feature in the following 4 ways:
- Single Field Inline Edit
- Inline Edit in Popup
- Inline Edit in Popover and
- Multiple Fields Inline Edit
Let us discuss all of them one by one.
Single Field Inline Edit Design
You can see this design in action on Apple iCloud while editing any Pages document in a browser.
The above image shows the name of the Pages document “Basic double layer egg…”. To rename this document to something else, you can hover your cursor over the name. Once you hover over the name, you will see the name getting enclosed inside a rectangular box as shown below:
This just indicates, that the name can be edited. Once you click inside the rectangular box, the name becomes editable and you can type anything in it to rename the Pages document.
It does look a clean approach without too many UI elements. But discoverability is a big issue in this design.
How do you think the users are going to discover that the name field will become editable once you click inside it? Not without someone telling them or them accidentally discovering it.
Linkedin overcomes this problem by prominently displaying the Edit icons once you hover over the fields.
But still the users have to hover their cursor over the field. Without hovering over the fields, the edit icons are not visible.
Now, look at the above image and tell me how the users are going to find out that the fields can be edited? They cannot. Again they have to accidentally stumble upon it or someone has to tell them.
Tumblr over comes this problem by always displaying the edit icons. You don’t have to hover over any fields to see the edit icons.
Now suddenly discoverability is not that big an issue. But this does pose a problem when there are too many fields to edit. The UI is obviously going to look cluttered.
Clickbank overcomes this by giving just one Edit link at the top of every region displaying a group of fields.
Still not a clean solution but it does get rid of the concern of cluttering the UI with too many Edit icons.
Now here’s the question. Instead of doing all of this why not just provide one prominent Edit button on the top of the page? Something like this:
Doesn’t this make things a lot more clear?
Yes, it does mean that every region will become editable at the same time. But does this make a difference? Will it confuse the users? I don’t think so.
I know that the biggest argument against this design is that the there is a friction when the page shifts from View mode to Edit mode. It does not give a very good user experience.
But does it not make things clear to the users?
Sometimes clarity is more important than worrying about superficial UI friction issues.
Now you know why I don’t like Inline Edit patterns too much. But let us stick to the point and see other ways in which we can design Inline Edit feature.
Inline Edit in Popup
Google Analytics uses this design. If you click the Edit icon on any of the regions on the dashboard, you get a popup with all the editable fields.
This is one way of letting the users edit the fields without navigating them to another page.
This approach works well if there are too many fields to edit. It won’t look nice if the number of editable fields are too less.
This is where the next design approach comes in.
Inline Edit in Popover
Linkedin is a very good example of this design. Once you click on the Edit icon, a small popover appears in which you can edit the fields.
There are Save and Cancel buttons that clearly indicate the next actions that the users can take.
Tumblr does something even subtler. Once you click the edit button, only those particular fields become editable and the rest of the fields fade out in the background.
Again there are prominent Save and Cancel buttons to clearly indicate the next actions.
These types of designs are good if you are editing small number of fields. But what if you want to let the users edit too many fields?
Either you can launch a popup as Google Analytics does or implement something like the next design approach.
Multiple Fields Inline Edit
You will see this design in action on Linkedin. If you click on any of the Edit icons while you are editing your Education details on your profile, the entire region will get replaced with editable fields.
Again the Save and Cancel buttons are prominent to take the users to the next action.
This is a good approach take if you are hell bent on keeping the users on the same page.
Clickbank does not follow this kind of inline edit. Once you click Edit on any of the regions, you are taken to another page where you can edit the fields.
Clicking Save will bring you back to the original page.
The purist UX advocates will hate this kind of design. I have heard this argument over and over again that this does not deliver a good user experience.
Personally I think most of these arguments stem from the fact that the people designing these UIs are not really aware of their users or the tasks they are trying to accomplish within the web application.
If your users are going to be individuals whose thought process might break if you navigate them to another page then sure this design is a problem. This can happen if the task that they are trying to do is complex. Filing Income Tax at the end of the year comes to my mind readily 🙂
But if you are designing for people who are going to well aware of the work they are trying to get done from the web application then this kind of design is not that big a problem.
Aesthetically it does not look good. I agree. But if it lets the users do what they want to do without confusing them then I don’t see a reason why you cannot design something like this.
The questions that I think we need to ask while designing such UIs are:
- Whether this kind of design will be confusing to the users?
- Will it be clear what part of the page they are editing?
- Will they need to refer to the other fields on the main page?
- Does this break their chain of thoughts while editing the fields?
If you know your users well, then you should be able to answer all of the above questions.
But there are still better ways to design such UIs.
Edit Mode Always On
Google Analytics uses this approach on some of their pages.
As you can see there is no View mode of the page. All the fields are always editable. Now there is no confusion of what can be edited, no need to discover anything and no so called friction.
Just change the values and save your changes. Simple.
I have seen this kind of design approach in most of the Enterprise Web Applications. The reason for this is primarily because the users who use such web applications spend most of the time editing things rather than reading. So pages in View modes are not that necessary.
However, you cannot implement such a design if the primary purpose of your web application is to show data to the users or make them read the data. Web Application catering to generation of various reports are an example of this.
I am a little biased towards showing the Edit mode always. Particularly in web applications that are meant to let the users enter the data, like business web applications.
But if the web application is supposed to display data to either the business users or other normal people then it is hard to avoid the View mode. In this case, you can take inspiration from all the UI designs that we just saw.
What’s Your Preference?
What do you think? Is there any other Inline Edit design that you have seen?
I would love to hear about it in the comments below.
Finally, don’t forget to share the article if you liked it 🙂