I was recently posed the question about showing icons in both the headers and in the sub-sets of data for activities like; printing, exporting, changing views etc. He had made it so that this subset of activities were hidden until an activity was spawned. IE a cell of data was clicked or hovered over, then the print, export, etc icons were shown. His question was if it should be made to be shown all the time and what other applications were doing. Looking at other data heavy applications (Google Marketplace, iTunes, other Accounting Type Applications) I found that these icons were indeed hidden quite a bit to draw the eye to the data set the user is looking for. The user understands they have an activity to perform, but paramount to the task is first identifying the data set they need to work with, and a lot of clutter in the data for “activities” didn’t help facilitate the user finding the data set they wanted.
There is some level of intuition and things that can be assumed and hidden like this example on Facebook, that once a user clicks on an icon the menu is opened and a new activity is spawned.
It appears that data driven applications opt for a cleaner appearance putting icons and setting widgets or icons only in a mouse over state to keep the user’s focus on the data and less on the activities that can be spawned in viewing the data. Once an activity is decided as an action the user is clicking on the data set (or row) and then it is best to show the activity or icons that necessitate the activity going forward.
There seemed to be quite a debate over what activities could be deemed “resources” or “activities”. For instance it was believed that “Print Page” and, “Help” were considered “resources” but activities in workflows were indeed “activities” it’s hard to make this association, as all seem to be activities, but are they inherent activities that are expected functionality that every application provides in similar manner in a similar position on each and every page? Some would argue to follow that paradyme and keep those icons in the same place and provide similar functionality. But us UX Designers of the world feel that if everyone is seeing them there, they have been sufficiently informed to mouse over the selected set of data to make those icons appear for a new function, to print that cell’s specific information, not a whole page of high level information, but more specifically the focused (targeted), intended critical piece of information that user wants to print. That’s us saving the world, and trees, if your going to print, make it count! If you are going to click, make that action be valid and not clutter the interface with unused and some would say “task based iconography” that isn’t helping you to make a decision on the data set you want to work with. We would argue that data sets should spawn the activity and we can derive a whole new set of assumptions on what that data set is possibly narrowing the tasks down that much farther, and making a more friendly user interface.