Material design: some further thoughts on navigation

In the MD spec so far, I have followed up on @blake’s suggestion to use a nav drawer for the primary navigation, and drawn up a MD spec, which @vimala has begun to implement. But there are some problems with the spec, and here i would like to make this clear and propose a solution.

Note: This post was a proposal, which has now been accepted by the team and included in the main MD spec, which is the definitive version, this one is deprecated.

###The problem

In the nav drawer in the current MD spec we have something like:

  • DN 1 The Supreme Net of Views

While in the division view we have something like:

  • DN 1 The Supreme Net of Views Brahmajala Sutta
    A description of the 62 kinds of silly ways to organize a sutta site.
    PALI SUJATO BODHI

In other words, the information in the nav drawer is nothing more than a summary of the division view; or, to say the same thing from the other way around, the division view is an expansion of the nav drawer.

Now, this is not normal. Normally, clicking on an item in the nav drawer doesn’t take you to an expanded view of that same item, but to the actual content, in this case, the text.

There are a number of problems with this proposal, but it seems to me the critical one is this: if we just list the translated sutta titles in the nav drawer, where do you go if you click that? To “the sutta”? Sure, but if there are multiple translations, which one? What, exactly, is a sutta here?

This problem is solved in the division view. The solution there is that the title itself does not take you to the sutta; this is because the title is an abstract representation of the “thing”, which is found in multiple versions. So we bring the “things” to the fore, and select the text or translation via buttons. This is appropriate, as it explicitly labels each actual thing as a text or translation. Moreover, since the overall purpose of the site is to get the user to the texts, it is appropriate that this function be emphasized, not hidden behind an ambiguous title link.

This line of reasoning made clear to me something that had not been clear before:

  • Everything in the hierarchy above a sutta is a simple item, whereas a sutta is a cluster of items.

This is why it’s appropriate to represent a division, a vagga, etc. as a simple item in a nav drawer. There is nothing more to them, they don’t represent anything more complex than a node in navigation. But a “sutta” represents original text, translation(s), description, parallels, and so on. That’s why they are best represented as complex list items, and it has always been a struggle to incorporate them in the nav drawer.

###The solution

The implication of this is that we should remove the individual suttas from the nav drawer. This avoids the problem of duplicating information, simplifies the nav drawer, reduces the hierarchy depth, and solves the problem of what happens when you click an item.

Let’s work through the implications of this approach.

We end up with three kinds of thing, which we can conceptualize as three columns:

| Nav Drawer | Sutta list |  Text  |
| ----       | ----       |  ----  |
| ----       | ----       |  ----  |
| ----       | ----       |  ----  |

The nav drawer includes the hierarchy down as far as the vagga. The “sutta list” includes the list of suttas and parallels. I use this rather than “division”, as the view is not restricted to division-level. The text includes the text and/or translation.

Functionally, this would work thus. First you navigate to the appropriate level of the hierarchy. You click on a division, pannasa, nipata, samyutta, or vagga, etc., and the relevant list of suttas is called up. You can then scroll to the relevant sutta, view the parallels if you like, or select the text.

How might this be implemented? Let me consider mobile first.

We would probably want to retain the Sutta list as a distinct page. This has the disadvantage that you cannot navigate directly from sutta to sutta, but have to go to an intermediate sutta list page. Having said which, this difference is probably more theoretical than practical.

[details=Another way]Use a nested nav drawer, as described in “Texts with sections” in my initial spec. This nav pattern is extensively used on the android dev site.

  • Advantages: go anywhere from anywhere; keep greater consistency between desktop and mobile versions.
  • Risk overburdening the nav drawer again; lose some space for parallels tables.[/details]

For wider screens, MD allows, for desktop only, a “cascading nav drawer”. Clicking on an item in the nav drawer opens a second panel, expanding the nav drawer horizontally. On a wide screen, this could be displayed at the same z-index as the nav drawer and the text, i.e. they all literally sit side by side as three columns. Here’s a rough mockup of that.

In somewhat narrower screens, such as tablets, the nav drawer and sutta list might be an overlay on the text.

However, this view would not work at all on mobile. So to keep development simple we should probably begin by developing for mobile, using a separate page for the sutta list view. At least we can be sure that this will work anywhere. We might consider implementing it as a cascading nav drawer later, if it seems useful.

[details=Deprecated]On the old SC, we have three basic layers of navigation:

  1. the top menu
  2. the (sub)-division pages
  3. the details pages, i.e. parallels and references

In the initial MD spec I reduced this to two:

  1. the nav drawer (which includes what is in the top menu and partially the (sub)divisions.
  2. (sub)division view (which includes the remainder of the (sub)division data and the details

It occurs to me that this is still messy, and we might further reduce it to one: eliminate the division pages altogether and only have a nav drawer. Let’s call it a meganav.

So my idea is that all the “tabular” info goes in the meganav drawer, and only the texts are in the main page.

What would this be like? Let’s consider the ideal situation, working with a nice wide screen. If you look at how a typical MD page is laid out, the nav drawer is fairly narrow, but the main content is quite wide, as it is not just a single column of text. MD heavily emphasizes use of illustrations and so on, so there is plenty of room to develop a generous page width, without excessive line length. For us, though, working solely with a single column of text, we can have no more than a suitable line length, and everything else is white space. Anyway, the point is, there’s plenty of room to allow for a wider nav drawer than specified in MD.

So the meganav drawer can include all the info which is, in the initial MD spec, found in the division view, which, as a reminder, is this:

When reading a sutta, this view can be open all the time. So you can go to anywhere, see the descriptions, open the details view, all in the “meganav drawer”, while the text page remains open.

Now, this has more information in it than a regular nav drawer. We know why that is so: to aid the reader. Of course, it is always possible to put away the meganav drawer and read the sutta in peace. But if you want it there, it is very powerful.

As discussed in the initial spec, it should be possible to filter the info in this view to some degree. The vol/page info is hidden by default, and the descriptions are shown. I have suggested that these be adjustable by the user.

Another possibility, perhaps to be used alongside that, is to automatically adjust the content for the screen size. In particular, for mobile users we might, say, lose the Pali titles or the descriptions by default, and allow the user to toggle them in. Anyway, these are details.

Now, there is clearly an issue with space here, especially for mobiles. This is an issue with the ordinary nav drawer anyway, as fitting the long titles and deeply nested hierarchies becomes quite a juggling act.

However, and this is the critical thing: it doesn’t make much difference on mobile whether you use a division page or a nav drawer. The MD specs say that a nav drawer on mobile should open to the right, leaving a space equivalent to the action bar, i.e. 56px. Here’s what that looks like.

So if we display our full information on a “division” page, we only gain a small amount of width as compared to a nav drawer. Either way, we will have to balance out the best way to include information.


Continuing this thread of thought, suppose we were to agree that the above meganav overburdens the nav drawer. How then do we address the issues raised above, especially the problem of how to choose a sutta, i.e. what happens when you click on a title of a sutta in the nav drawer?[/details]

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[quote= not working on mobi

Exactly. And what if a certain translation does not exist in that resp. Language for that sutta in the i18n view? Would you then not want to see which languages are availability instead?

I wonder if it is necessary to show vaggas in the Nav drawer too. If you don’t know in which vagga your sutta is in, you need to open each one. Would it not be better to have the sutta list similar to the (sub)division view now (with different layout and info) and list the same items we have in the current menu in the nav drawer in the long/medium… Etc. Layout we discussed?

We can keep next prev arrows in each sutta.

Yes, good point. I had been thinking that in that case there would simply be nothing. But I guess that’s my Aussie bias, assuming that most people are mono-lingual!

Probably the best thing would be to give the translations as buttons in the user’s preferred language, with the option to select other languages as a dropdown. Then, if there were no translations in that language, the multi-language dropdown would still be there. Using the example i gave at the start:

  • DN 1 The Supreme Net of Views Brahmajala Sutta
    A description of the 62 kinds of silly ways to organize a sutta site.
    PALI SUJATO BODHI Other ⯆

And if there were no translations in that language:

  • DN 1 The Supreme Net of Views Brahmajala Sutta
    A description of the 62 kinds of silly ways to organize a sutta site.
    Other ⯆

The idea is that you can open the sutta list view at any level: division, subdivision, pannasa, nipata, samyutta, or vagga as appropriate. There are several reasons for this.

If you know where your sutta is, or have some idea, you can go there more quickly. Maybe you know, “it’s in the middle of the Majjhima somewhere”, so you can click on that pannasa. Or you know, “I think it’s in the Rajavagga”, so you can go there.

Another advantage is that it allows a user to choose what’s appropriate for their platform. I can select and view, say the whole Samyutta on my desktop, but a mobile user probably doesn’t want to do that. On the old site we have some limited modifications to allow for this (the /full view for AN and SN), but this gives much more flexibility.

If you look at the mockups, in the nav drawer, anything that is a colored item corresponds to a level that can be opened as a sutta list.


Just to expand on that a little, in the texts the vagga is used very consistently as a structural element. However, vaggas vary considerably in their nature.

Many vaggas are semantically thin; they just represent a group of ten suttas, and the name of the vagga just happens to be from the title of the first sutta. Such vaggas are not very memorable, and probably not very helpful for navigation.

But other vaggas are much more meaningful, and are very important as indicating their content. In the Majjhima, for example, many vaggas—bhikkhuvagga, rajavagga, paribbajakavagga, vibhangavagga, etc.—give a very good indication of their contents. In the Dhammapada, say the brahmanavagga has a strong thematic consistency. In the Sutta Nipata, each vagga is almost like a different kind of text, such that the vaggas are probably a more important organizing principle than the text itself (the Atthakavagga is preserved independently in Chinese, for example).

Mobile phones are indeed limited so please forgive me that I cannot look at the mockups while on a train :slight_smile:

Indeed, proving the point that those layouts are for desktop only!

More to the point: they are pngs and not responsive.

Guess you never lived in a quad-lingual country where nobody speaks your mother tongue when you drive 2 hours in any direction.

I think the nikayas/vaggas should still be listed in the menu, even if no translated sutta exists for that language. So f.i. in case of the Farsi, which only has DN 22 listed, it would still have the full menu in the nav-drawer.

If no translation for vaggas exist in a particular language, either Pali or English can be used as a fallback.

You mentioned the menu in https://developer.android.com/develop/index.html
That’s great but indeed uses the second (sub)menu which goes on top of the first one. That is something that can be done on Mobile too, while your above suggestion cannot.

Personally, I do not like the ❭in front of the menu items. It becomes a bit too much. I think now that we have abandoned the long sutta-titles in the menu, we can do away with it and simply do an indent instead.

Well, Malaysia is not quite that extreme, but still, highly multi-lingual.

Sure. The main point should be that the existence of translations in that language should be highlighted somehow. In the old site we use bold for that. Here, maybe we could use a badge? But anyway, this is a detail.

Indeed.

Indeed, yes.

Yes, I agree. In the mockups above I have gone back to just a flat list.

We can try using indents, but my fear is that, even without the suttas, there will still be too many nesting levels in some cases. In the Anguttara, for example, we have:

nikaya
      nipata
           pannasa
                vagga

Anyway, maybe just use whatever the defaults are for now, and see how it turns out.


I’ll leave it a day or two to make sure I am settled on this, then if you and @blake have no objection, I’ll incorporate these changes back into the main MD spec.

I’ll try to incorporate this in the current menu view so you can see what it looks like and also include some of the AN so you can see what that would look like.

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That would be great, thanks.

Added some of the AN and changed the styling somewhat:
https://samanerivimala.github.io/polymer-mockup-sc/#!/home

Right now it is like we have it on SC (without the pannasa). Might become a bit cramped on the sidebar with that too.

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Thanks, that’s getting there. It certainly feels like a saner approach to the nav drawer content.

But yes, some things are already wrapping, and when pannasas are added this will be a problem. Other texts might have two or three additional hierarchical levels, too.