Let's say I have a basic preferences dialog (tabs at the top, but I could also have put them at the left, it doesn't matter here).

Awesome preferences dialog!

I like to use the tabulation key to navigate through the options. Let's say I just opened my preferences dialog, the that image is what I see. Would it make more sense sense to have the tab One as the first selected item, or to make line selected first?

In the first case, it lets you navigate through the tabs. In the second case, you have a direct access to the editable element. Since it is the first tab, it will probably be the one with the elements that need to be edited first.

Is there a guideline to chose a somehow better option in such a case?

3 Answers 3


Acccording to the Microsoft Official Guidelines for UI Developers and Designers:

Assign initial input focus to the control that users are most likely to interact with first, which is often the first interactive control. If the first interactive control isn't a good choice, consider changing the window's layout.

Tab order should follow reading order, which generally flows from left to right, top to bottom. Consider making exceptions for commonly used controls by putting them earlier in the tab order. Tab should cycle through all the tab stops in both directions without stopping.

So according to the Windows guidelines, your initial focus should be on the first control (Some Text).

Edited: after comments below clarified tab stops

  • I believe in that document, tab stops doesn't mean tab controls. A tab stop is each interactive control, or logical group of them. So a tab stop might be a radio button group, or a list box, and the arrow keys would choose between the individual items. Jun 17, 2013 at 20:04
  • @Steve Waddicor I agree, it is unusual pattern to move focus between control in different groups with arrow key. But inside the same group it works, Excluding text fields. Jun 18, 2013 at 9:26
  • Thanks for the clarification. Edited my answer to reflect.
    – smoca
    Jun 18, 2013 at 12:27
  • Just one detail: "Some text" is not editable, it's a plain label, so according to your answer, the initial focus should be on "line".
    – Morwenn
    Jun 19, 2013 at 6:59

First, don't forget to mark active tab.
Second, the navigation tabs order maybe has sense. More important or frequently used settings are grouped in order, left to right. So probably average user will get right tab from first try, auto select input field.


Initial focus should be in the "Some text" input control.
This, if the user has to write something then she's already there, especially if she has the hands on the keyboard.
As of the tabs navigation and if the common use case was to check all or most of the tabs, if I was your user I'd like to see the "next / previous" buttons at the bottom of each tab in order to be able to navigate to the next step without losing the mental focus.
That is, without having to look at the tabs stripe, see which one is selected and choose the next one.
This is because this way the user always goes forward.

  • This would have been interesting if the tabs were related. Unfortunately, it does always make sense go "forward" to languages when you are configuring the snapshot preferences :/
    – Morwenn
    Jun 19, 2013 at 6:55

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