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Arrow border: Screen-shot with several option icons on the left side. One icon is darker than the rest and has an arrow next to it pointing right to indicate it is selected

Open border: Screen-shot with several option icons on the left side. One icon is darker than the rest and has borders between it and the rest of the options, but no border to the right

Which gives a better user experience, and why?

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I would suggest a well defined user study with your prospective users. The question is too narrow to have any off-the-shelf answers. – rk. Jun 4 '13 at 0:08
Arrow border is worse if screen real estate in the main (work) window is at a premium. Other than this obvious issue, @rk. is absolutely correct - A/B testing is needed. Please also consider other alternatives. – Deer Hunter Jun 4 '13 at 4:27
up vote 4 down vote accepted

Both examples that you have given are good UX wise, as you have emphasised the active tab and de-emphasised the inactive ones. Good job.

I would however suggest that the arrow border (first one) one is a little better as it is less distracting and lets my attention remain on the content (which is where it should be). When I look at the tabs there is still no confusion as to which tab I am on, and so it's visually subtle enough to get out of my way, but clear enough to give me the information that I need.

My philosophy is to always use the most visually simple design that is able to do the job. Anything more than that, then draws some attention to the design rather than the task.

That said, if this is a critical issue and you have enough budget to handle it, a user study could be beneficial. However as you are taking about two good designs, you will probably have to have a large sample set, which will take a lot of time and money to get any statistically valid result.

If it's not critical that you know this, I would say that it isn't worth the time and cost as both designs are good and have been proven to work.

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This is a subjective decision - as long as it's clear which one is selected you're good.

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We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

Hi Stankyfresh, welcome to! Your answer sounds more like a comment that an answer. Can you provide some references to make it more conclusive? – rk. Jun 4 '13 at 3:10

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