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I am designing a settings dialog with multiple tabs for our desktop application. There is a particular (small) group of options that is applicable to two separate tabs in the settings dialog. I cannot combine the two tabs, since there are plenty of other options on the tabs that are not very combine-able.

Thus I was thinking about putting those options that are in common between the two tabs on both of the tabs, so the user can change the options in either place.

Is there a good reason why I shouldn't do this? Is there a better option in this case?

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Extract those options onto a separate, third tab? Put them outside the tabbed area altogether? –  Thomas Oct 15 '12 at 19:28
    
@Thomas: The details of the common options do not allow that option, unfortunately. And besides which they would be too few to reasonably put on a tab by themselves. –  skybluecodeflier Oct 15 '12 at 19:35

3 Answers 3

If you duplicate common settings in each tab, users can assume that these settings are independent and can be set to different values. Is it the case? Can users set different values for the common settings? If that is not the case, you can consider placing common settings outside of the tabs to avoid confusion.

enter image description here

Taking into account the comments about shared fields between two tabs here is another option. I have a feeling that if you try duplicating the fields but they are not independent there will be confusion, adding text to explain the users how it works is not a very reliable solution because users don't usually read :).

enter image description here

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That's a good point... I perhaps could prevent the user from thinking this through careful wording of the labels. Concerning your screenshot: Unfortunately the common settings in my circumstance are only common to those two tabs, and would be out of place being common to everything. –  skybluecodeflier Oct 16 '12 at 21:38
    
I see, so it's not common among all, that makes it trickier :). Are the common settings between the two tabs shared? Could users provide different values in each tab? –  Anna Rouben Oct 17 '12 at 17:06
    
Yes, they are shared. If the user changes in one place, then it changes in the other place. –  skybluecodeflier Oct 17 '12 at 17:12
    
Just updated my answer given that the fields are shared only between two tabs. I am not sure if there is something unifying between the two tabs to give the shared tab a good name that speaks to the users. –  Anna Rouben Oct 17 '12 at 17:46
    
I apologize for the late response- this got lost in the things I was working on. That is again a good idea, but I feel it wouldn't be feasible in my situation, mainly because the other non-common features are best not put together. –  skybluecodeflier Oct 25 '12 at 15:52

If you end up putting the shared options on both tabs, you could:

  • Style them differently (for example put them in a box with a black border or with a coloured background).

  • Put them at the bottom of the tab, after a horizontal rule separator.

This would make them stand out from the other options, and the colour especially may help remind the user that they saw these options in another tab.

Neither of these intuitively say "these options are shared" but they may help hint to the user that there is something special about these options.

Another possibility which is more explicit:

  • When one of the two relevant tabs is open, make the tab shorter, and put the shared options below the tab. That implementation is more complex, but the meaning should be clear to the user.

To avoid drawing a picture of the above: Imagine Anna's Common fields appear below the tabs. Hide them when they are not needed (e.g. Feature 3) and then optionally let the tab grow to occupy the empty space.

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I'd take this approach:

  • Put the actual, editable options in TAB 1
  • Put a clone of the options in TAB 2 but make it read-only, and add a label stating "You can change these options in TAB 1" (you also could put there a link to TAB 1!)
  • You happen to realize those same options are relevant in TAB 3 too ? Put another read-only clone there too, no tweaking needed.

All read-only clones should always be updated accordingly to user input, of course.

As a developer, I'm probably not applicable as a "average user" use case, but I believe this would work to convey the message that those options are the exact same thing across the tabs (and the fact they are there implies they are relevant, too).

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