Tab Context

Sounds like a great name for a pulp-fiction character. A UI Engineer that by night, uses his uncanny Fitts-law-honed reflexes to FIGHT CRIME.

Alternatively, it could be something Stefan cares about a lot in his user-experiences.

FWIW, I agree with Stef. Tabs have mutated as to create such wildy different expectations in people using interfaces that feature them; but showing different modes or views of data based around a central point of departure or query seems to have emerged as the default understanding.

In 1999, Jakob Neilsen was bemoaning the fact that tabs where moving away from this meaning:

“I still think that less than 50% of sites use tabs in the (erroneous) meaning of navigating to the main sections of the site. Thus, I still think that the correct use of tabs is preferred and I recommend using different techniques to visualize the main areas of the site. But this may be a losing battle and I may have to revise this recommendation in a year or so if more and more sites adopt a misguided use of tabs.”

So, he was keeping his eye on whether the consensus/convention had shifted. With UI changes in 800lb convention-setting gorrilas like Hotmail and Amazon in the meantime, has it?

What’s your experience?

» “Search engines and maintained keyword state”

  1. Steve Hunt said:

    Well, working where I am now, I can tell you that it’s still my opinion that tabs don’t work when utilised as the ‘main’ navigation.

    Jakob was an advocate of tabs when used for ‘view switching’ and all of my post-BBC, IA induction, user testing has confirmed that users respond well to this too.

    Where the problem arises is when people try to carry this ‘tabbed’ (not ‘tabular’ as people within my current place of work insist on calling it) method of navigation into the main body of the site/content.

    In my experience, all this ends up doing is aid in the creation of some sort of crazed, tab-dropdown chimera which confuses and often enrages users, as opposed to helping them find their way! is an amazing example of dropdown hell, which (admittedly loosely – I couldn’t find a better example in my head) adapts some ‘tab, view switching’ convention and then funks it up with all manner of mad dropdown insanity!

    One thing that I can never seem to find though is a study on the visibility of tabbed navigation. In recent tests carried out by myself for a telecoms company users responded well to view switching tabs, but only once they had ‘found’ them, which often took a long time, and some prompting. This is something which has come up in previous studies of mine as well.

    Anyone know of any good studies on this subject?

  2. I’m sure we’ve still got to go through the pain when some bright spark tries to get a tabbed metaphor into an interactive TV UI…

  3. Joe said:

    Tabs on the TV, already been done.

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