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I'm designing a mobile app and need to choose the right strategy to display data that's is listed in several different categories on a mobile app. Specially if you have more than 3 categories of lists.

Tabs feel too functional and accordions are more experiential. What is your preference?

Note, that one category can have up to 100 and at the same time another will only have ten.

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Please clarify, what is the planned task flow? Should a user select and work with one list or switch between the lists while working? –  Alexey Kolchenko Jan 8 at 10:35
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2 Answers

It depends on several things:

  1. How long are the labels that you need? Make sure that labels do not run off the screen and users can tell what is going to be in each tab or accordion pane. If there will only be two panes, a tab setup would be easy to read in both portrait and landscape.

  2. Will users always have the information that they need in the current pane? Here's a question that addresses when not to use an accordion: When is it bad practice to use an accordion control? (see accepted answer). Most of that information applies for tabs as well.

  3. What kind of headers will you have? Related headers like daily/weekly/monthly/yearly go well into tabs because the whole group of related information will stay together.

  4. Will your app support both portrait and landscape? It is easier to see the other panes of an accordion in portrait, but a longer tab list can appear less crowded in landscape. If you're only supporting 1 of portrait/landscape now, what is the likelihood that you would support it later?

Additionally, I would consider splitting the large category so that it all fits within one screenful. If one category can have up to 100 items in it, it will be too long to display on one screen. Users of mobile devices might not be able to see that they are inside an accordion/tab if they have scrolled to view the rest of the content in one pane. Jakob Nielsen's tab guidelines here for tabs don't specifically list this requirement, but I don't see a conflict between his list and what I am suggesting.

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+1 for David's answer.

I think it's important to remember that accordions are both content and navigation. By nature, accordion nav links jump to different vertical locations on a screen as you open and close them. Tabs on the other hand tend to provide a static navigation.

For that reason, I imagine mobile accordions, which will probably cause a lot of scrolling, to be a negative user experience. Given the choices, I would choose tabs.

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