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My client is not fond of the tab metaphor, so I need to come up with something else.

Does anyone have any ideas on what I could use to replaced a tab control (containing 3-4 tabs) with something else?

The platform is Silverlight.

EDIT:

Basically, the implementation SCREAMS for tabs. It's a configuration windows, that allows the user to configure different elements; such as Widgets, Gadgets, and Thingies.

So I have three tabs on the configuration page: one for each type of item.

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Your client is "not fond of the tab metaphor"? What kind of argument is that? Maybe they should learn to delegate decisionmaking about UI elements to, you know, the UI designer instead of micromanaging them. –  Rahul Aug 18 '10 at 15:35
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It would help if you could provide a screenshot of the existing interface or give us some hints about what goes on the tabs. –  Patrick McElhaney Aug 18 '10 at 18:53
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@Rahul Good luck finding a client who is not the undisputed master of everything about design. It's a rare bird who actually listens to experience. –  Michael Todd Aug 18 '10 at 19:42
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My challenge to the client was, "other then some default Windows applets, I challenge you to find an application on your system that doesn't use tabs." Of course, there are some, just not many. –  SergioL Aug 23 '10 at 15:59
    
See also ux.stackexchange.com/questions/275/… –  ChrisF Aug 5 '11 at 10:33
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10 Answers 10

up vote 17 down vote accepted

I think the master-detail paradigm may work here.
For example, look at the browse dialog of Windows7 below.

Ignoring the possible tree structure on the left, whatever you select on the left, changes the content of the right panel.

A similar structure can be found in Microsoft Office, for example when creating a new document.

alt text

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This may be the route I go, some sort of Accordian/Expander if I can't convince them that the 3 or 4 tabs are actually ok for their implementation. –  SergioL Aug 23 '10 at 16:03
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I would recommend an Accordion. Or how about an Expander or Cover Flow metaphor from Telerik?

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Do you know what it is about visualizing tabs they don't like? Since all tabs are is an anchor that shows/hides a container, you could still do it the same way but without actually making it look like folder tabs. You could follow Dan's suggestion (which is really the same thing as using tabs without the visual cues) or maybe you could make a case for why exactly tabs are a good idea (users have an easy time understanding the concept and they are used to using them).

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I like this one. Keep the tab concept, but just change the style, and come up with several. Make the tabs on one side look like buttons, and now it isn't really "tabs" anymore. –  John Gardner Aug 24 '10 at 21:18
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It might be worth mocking up a couple of versions using the Accordian and Expander (as suggested by Ryan) and showing them to the client. These controls are very similar to tabs and might not pass the "fondness" test.

Let them use them for a while and then ask some questions about which they liked or didn't like and why. Treat it as a mini User Experience test. You might get to the bottom of why they're "not fond" of tabs and come up with a better solution.

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I think the platform is not important here. Search around the web for UI patterns. there are galleries out there. see which one is best for your client! You can see some resources here

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I'm curious as to what metaphor your client would be more interested in being used than a tab menu.

Anyone who uses a visual operating system uses a tab menu in some aspect or another. The difference being the visual representation of said menu. Mac has their own, Windows as well has their own. The possibilities are endless.

Mocking up a few possibilities even on paper might serve as a good conversation point for suggesting to stick with a tab menu, but offering different variations of the visual aspect of a tab menu which can easily be changed.

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If you are using Silverlight, then you may want to look into a Navigation style interface with paging and 'breadcrumbs' to lead the user through the system. In some interfaces I've designed, we've had success with this style of navigation along with a selection of 'related screens' to help route the user through the application.

I think that when you have too many tabs, things can get a little out of hand.

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+1 That's how Mac OS X's System Preferences works. Since it's Windows, Control Panel might also be a good model to follow. –  Patrick McElhaney Sep 6 '10 at 12:29
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How about, one long scrollable page with collapsible elements?

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Four tabs might be too many, but in the past I've done radio buttons to change the screen when one more set of tabs was just too many. It doesn't seem to be as intuitive a control scheme however.

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Did they hire you to do what you're told, or to do the right thing? If "the implementation SCREAMS for tabs", do some usability testing which presumably will back up your argument and convince the client. If five random potential customers all prefer tabs and your client doesn't, perhaps he's willing to admit that he'd rather sell his product than have his own way in the design.

On the other hand, if the test results prove you wrong, well....

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