Tabs, Tabs, and More Tabs…

by on April 4, 2007
in design

I Heart Tab

In college years ago I took a Sociology class. In this class I wrote a paper about User Interface before I had ever considered designing anything (I actually studied fine art in school, not design.) The thesis of the paper was about the evolution of the user interface. My thesis taken verbatim from the paper was “All software user interface and interaction will evolve towards the web browser experience.”

I still believe this. This position statement is based upon the assumption that the vast majority of computer users spend more time within the web browser, site hopping, than doing anything else on their computer. People have a physiological need to push buttons (emotional, physical, and virtual…) Anyone with kids, or that has driven on I-5 recently should be well aware of this.

Ironically, I recently attended An Event Aprart in Seattle where I got to listen to one of my heroes, Jeffery Zeldman talk about a project, where he kept making the buttons bigger and bigger to see if the client would complain. In the end the web application was “all button,” but the client and the clients customers alike we’re as happy as clams with the design. Buttons are good, because human beings instinctually know what to do with them… push them! Morale of the story, you really can’t have a button that’s too big..!

In combining the idea of moving the interface towards the web analogy combined with the use of buttons for navigation we inevitably end up with, the tab… (not the soft drink from the 70s) Tabs are great. I heart tab. The reason is because everyone knows what they are, what to do with them, but no one really knows why. It just makes sense.

“I found Home Server to be intuitive to use and very effective at backing up data as well as monitoring my home network’s health. Its simplicity and automation will make it a winner with many home users. – Computerworld”

The success of the Windows Home Server console has been largely due to the big tabs at the top of it (even though they’ve presented some mighty localization challenges, fortunately our famous dev team has some interesting cards up their sleeves.)

The Windows Home Server console is the first server administration UI from Microsoft to employ horizontal tabs in this manner. And ironically all of this was a result of hiring a crazy contingent staff user experience designer and putting him a room alone for several weeks with a dual-proc machine loaded with two gigs of RAM (which was quite alot back in 2004…) and two twenty-one inch monitors. I have to say for the record that MS sure knows how to be good to it’s employees.

Long live the tab!

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