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Center-area concept:

For a desktop application, we commonly find a similar structure for the GUI:

  • Top menu / Ribbon
  • Dockables left and right to explore the content and show properties.
  • Center-area with the main content or view. Internal frames are deprecated in favour of file tabs.

I am not sure about the name of this "center-area", my apologies if there is a more appropriate name. For the purpose of this question, I will keep calling it "center-area"

As an example (E is the center-area):

enter image description here


Multiple center-areas concept:

Let now suppose a use-case where several views of the same "file" or "project" are useful with an equivalent importance: to illustrate this principle, I will take the example of a "3D printer" slicer.

  • The 3D view is required to be big, so details and possible issues are well visible. (It makes sense to have it in the center-area).
  • The user spend 90% of it time on settings and configurations, which would ideally be in the center-area. Note that applying those settings (slicing) take time (usually many seconds), so there is no point in showing the 3D view and settings at the same time.

An other example is a 3D engine editor:

  • The designer spend lot of time editing the 3D view, by placing new models in it (it makes sense to have it in the center-area).
  • The designer spend lot of time configuring shaders managing huge graphs. (it makes sense to have the graph view in the center-area).

Shader editor in Unreal engine 3D view editor in Unreal engine

Note: I want to highlight the difference between having multiple content in the same center-area GUI (e.g. multi-files in your browser), versus having multiple GUIs filling the center-area, for the same project or file.

The question (s):

Is having two(or more) GUI filling the center-area a good practice?
Otherwise, what are the alternatives?
Finally, is there a name for this multi-central-area GUI?

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The 'best' practice in UI/UX design is to understand the user requirements and to support it through the interface that you present to them. But in general design tends to favour simplicity over putting too much information on the screen.

One simple alternative is to introduce a user interface element that allows the user to switch between the different GUI while still clearly letting them know that both forms are available and can be accessed (e.g. tabs or toggles). If there is definitely a need for information from both forms to be entered in at around the same time, or for the information in one form to be used to help complete the other form, you can simply present it as another field rather than showing the entire form and having the user locate that information.

Technically speaking, the way you name the different areas of the user interface depends on the actual underlying layout. If you consider the top and bottom areas/sections used for menus, navigation and footer not part of the main screen, then the central area is effectively where the main content is displayed. And if you split this in half, then what you effectively have is a 2 column layout.

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