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Scenario: There are four tabs on a webpage. Each tab contains a webform. Some of the fields are required.

If a user doesn't complete a required field on tab two, and clicks tab four without saving, what should happen?

  1. The user is prevented from going to tab four until the required field is filled in
  2. The user is permitted to go to tab four, and tab two reverts to its previous information (all changes to tab two are discarded; there might even be a warning dialog before this happens)
  3. Something else

(I don't like putting webforms in tabs, but I've had to work on software that was set up this way.)

2 Answers 2

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It depends on whether the information is sequential or asynchronous. For example, if you need to fill in certain fields with information that is required in other tabs, the user should not be able to leave that tab until that information is (correctly) filled in.

If the information is asynchronous, the user should be able to switch to any tab because of Locus of Control law. With some caveats.

You mention required fields. If fields are required, the user should not be able to abandon the tab, as I said in the beginning.

However, this only applies to information the user is adding for the first time. If the user edits the data, we do not know if she abandons the tab just because she changed her mind. She may be thinking, "If I leave this tab without saving the changes, that's like an abandonment," but it could also be that she forgot to save (which is another problem because we do not know the user flow, e.g., do you save all the tabs at once or one at a time). In either case, you need some sort of confirmation dialog to accurately identify the user's intentions.

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I've encountered a similar scenario previously, will share some thoughts:

Please do not follow the #1 option because it breaks usability heuristic #3 ( User control and freedom). The user should always be able to do whatever the user wants (within a journey).

Option #2 can be harmful to some users who accidentally confirmed the switching (from 2nd to 4th tab). Myth #1: People read on the web

I would recommend considering the next scenario:

  1. Ask the user- Are you sure you want to leave this page without saving edits?
  2. Allow user to Cancel leaving, Leave the page and Save edits, and the harmful one is to Leave and do not save any records at all.

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