Problem summary

The user wants to achieve a single goal which can be broken down into dependable sub-tasks.


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Break down a single goal into dependable sub-tasks.

The task of inputting data into the system is parted into multiple steps. Each step is presented to the user one at a time.

The user should be presented with information about the steps that exist, progress through the process and which steps are completed.

The Wizard pattern is very similar to the Steps Left pattern. The difference between the two is the focus. Where Steps Left is focused only on explaining the steps of a process, the Wizard pattern is about parting dependable sub-tasks needed to perform a complex goal into separate steps.

The Wizard pattern is also different from the Steps Left pattern in that the steps needed to perform a goal can vary depending on the information inputted in earlier stages. In this way, the Wizard pattern separates itself from being merely an visible aid for the user.


Basically, a wizard is a series of screens or dialogue boxes walking users through from start to completion. Each screen asks the user to input information by either making selections or filling in fields. After inputting data, users navigate through the wizard by clicking navigation options like “Previous” and “Next”. At the final step users click “Finish” instead of “Next”, which thus indicates the completion of the wizard.

It is also good practice to include a “Cancel” button on all screens that will lead the user back to where he or she came from. Typically, a “Cancel” button is located near other navigation buttons, but in a position that clearly separates the button from the “Previous” and “Next” buttons. Furthermore, it is also good practice to provide a warning if data inputted up to that point will be lost clicking the “Cancel” button. It is fair for to assume that the user expects that he or she can return to the wizard later and start from where they left off3. In order not to frustrate the user more than necessary, the consequences of exiting the wizard should be communicated.

Wizards are meant to be fast and easy. For this reason, it is a good idea to keep the content of a screen as well as its navigation above the fold.

Keep the purpose clear: explain

Keep the wizard’s purpose clear on every screen by placing a clear and concise label on every screen. Optionally accompany the label with a brief explanation of the wizard’s purpose on the first screen. This will help users remember why they entered the wizard in the first place and how they will benefit from finishing the wizard.

Use plain language

Users of a wizard aren’t necessarily experts, why you should refrain from using technical jargon to prompt users. The language used should fit in to the user’s frame of reference5.

Summarize choices

It is good practice to present a summary of choices made throughout the wizard to the user near the end of the wizard. This will allow the user to review and double-check inputted data before the final “Finish” button is clicked. In the case the user wishes to change the data entered, he or she should be able to navigate back to the given page where the date was entered. If the amount of steps in the wizard is greater than 8-10, it is a good idea to provide links directly to the screen of the data input.

Good defaults

A wizard is a perfect place for using Good defaults. Most wizard users are not familiar with the task they are performing and are thus unfamiliar with the values for the choices they are asked to make.


By splitting up a complex task into a sequence of chunks, you can effectively simplify the task. Each chunk represents a separate mental space, easier to deal with alone than as a whole. Contrary to the Steps Left pattern, the steps needed to perform a goal can vary depending on the information inputted in earlier stages.

By separating complex tasks needed to achieve a goal into several steps, the process of inputting data can take several different directions depending on what input is entered.

The complex task of inputting large amounts of dependable data can be adjusted and streamlined to fit the decisions of a user throughout a process. In the context of decisions the user makes in each step, unnecessary steps can be cut out and important steps can enter into the focus.

In a system with many variables, a user can reach their goals by manipulating these variables in different ways. The Wizard pattern can be used to group such variables into separate goals. This will convert the task of completing a complex goal from multiple disparate actions into a coherent process.

When users are forced to follow a set of pre-defined steps they are less likely to miss important aspects of a process and will thus commit fewer errors.

Minimum of training

Wizards are often made for the untrained user. For this reason, make sure your wizard can be completed without training. A rationale behind using a wizard is to avoid training for rare or intimidating tasks – not to develop expertise.


Do you need to use this pattern in your project?

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