We are building a business application (a laboratory management system to be more precise) mostly for internal company use only. To make it easier for users to find items which they work on we are implementing a list of most used items.

We had a little debate on which method would be better to implement: display the most recent vs display the most used.

My arguments on most-recent

  • A little bit easier to implement. I think this is worth to mention because we are dealing with business application which will be sold as a single copy, so this may directly effect application price. Also simpler implementation means less code and may effect maintenance code.
    • Counterargument: difference in implementation difficulty in this case is too small
  • It is easier for users to guess what will they find in this list so they know if it is worth to look at the list at all.
  • Items which were relative yesterday and used a lot might not be relevant today and in recent item list they quickly disappear.

My arguments on most-used

  • Actually it is quite easy to display a mixed version of recently-used and most-used by combining last access date and a number of access something like this (today - lastaccess) * number_of_access
    • Counterargument: this requires fine-tuning

What arguments would you give for one or another?

  • 6
    My advice is not to use "easier to implement" as an argument. It's the same as saying "I don't want to take my time or don't have enough brains to do smth".
    – superM
    Aug 1, 2012 at 10:41
  • 3
    This is a usability question rather than a programming question; you should ask it on ux.stackexchange.com. Aug 1, 2012 at 11:00
  • 2
    @BryanOakley - I disagree with you. UX is user interface design. While Usability plays a part in UX, it is not solely the domain of UX. Usability can play a very large role in how the code is written.
    – user53019
    Aug 1, 2012 at 11:21
  • Most-Recent + a "Pin" icon.
    – Brian
    Aug 1, 2012 at 18:58

6 Answers 6


This might be down voted for not answering your question directly, but the debate you had with your colleague was a waste of time.

You should have spoken to 3 (mid level, hands on) lab technicians - given them the two options and asked them what they would do.

  • 3
    +1. If you don't know, ask
    – superM
    Aug 1, 2012 at 10:47
  • Yes I agree that the debate was quite a waste of time. I will update the question and remove the full story and leave only arguments aginst one or another. Though asking users at this time won't work because they can't use the product yet. But yes we can implement whichever and then after product is deployed we can ask if they like or not and then if they don't we can simply change implementation which is actually very short.
    – Ski
    Aug 1, 2012 at 11:06
  • 5
    They don't need to use the product to understand, if you get a hands on technician they will understand the problem. I actually work in this same area, I'm constantly being educated by the users - and not just on the science.
    – Jonno
    Aug 1, 2012 at 11:08
  • When possible, always allow the users of your application to make decisions like this. It'll prevent "hm, this isn't as useful as we expected" complaints and rework later.
    – Plutor
    Aug 1, 2012 at 11:42
  • Indeed work at this sphere has a big plus because lab staff is quite educated and can give really useful guidance. I worked on a quite small internal system at marketing/sales shop before this project and most of the time I had really bad suggestions from the users even the ceo.
    – Ski
    Aug 1, 2012 at 11:51

Do both. Instead of a simple list, have an "Open Recent" command that opens a page or dialog or window or whatever fits in your design. On that page you can then have two sections, one for most recent and another for most used. Or, a radiobutton that toggles between the two. This gives each user the power to choose.

Regardless, instead of asking strangers who have no idea what your actual users are like, ask your actual users. Hallway usability testing goes a long way.

  • Beat me to the punch on this one. I was going to use Chrome's "most visited" & "recently closed" lists as an example. Aug 1, 2012 at 11:08
  • 2
    The trouble with do both is you now have more code to maintain, more features to test and an added training burden. It may or may not be appropriate here
    – jk.
    Aug 1, 2012 at 12:28
  • @jk.: true, but you can say that about any feature. Should we add "undo"? Sure, but it's more code to maintain, more to test, ... The question is, do you want to give the best user experience you can, or do you need to compromise in one way or another? The answer is almost always to compromise, since we rarely have unlimited time or unlimited budget. Aug 1, 2012 at 12:45

Apart from asking your end users, I'd go with most used in the last x days. But this takes a bit more work as you have to keep a history.


Your end users or customer(s) should define expected features and use cases.

However, if there is no such requirement/preference, i would implement most easiest (also fastest) option first and start to collect customer/tester feedback for most wanted features. I would Log them and implement them in defined priorities by customer/planning.


Look how the answers are ordered here. You have three options:
- active _ most recent
- oldest
- votes _ most actively "used"

And this is the best decision ever. I'm sure that instead of spending your time on debating (and posting this question and reading the answers) you could have already implemented the easiest way, which is in this case (according to you) most recent items.

I wouldn't say that implementing the easiest way and then letting the users judge is a good idea: many companies have failed with such a strategy. So if you don't have enough resources for both, do as Jonno suggests.


Why not simply allow the user to bookmark whatever links they want and to be able to sort/group them. Unless you are going to some kind of analysis, there is no point in maintaining frequent/recent usage statistics per user.

Any kind of smartness shown by applications usually gets in the way. Just because it is cool to implement, does not mean it is fun to use.

Deep pocket guys like microsoft and google do real usability studies, and they give you ways to both clear and turn off MRU lists. So if you implement recent/frequent lists, you should also implement clearing them and disabling them.

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