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When comparing two items side by side, is it better to show the given or known item first or show the unknown variable first?

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I have a tabbed interface to show the differences of common eye issues compared to a normal eye. The tabbed interface is a fixed UI parameter and in this context is intended for a user to browse various eye ailments to compare a graphic side by side with a normal eye.

The common eye content will be the same across each tab. In this setup, I'm assuming a user will perform a rollover action over multiple eye-disorders in a session.

Is it best to place the common eye graphic on the left or on the right?

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You could do either, depending on how you want to present the information. Do you want to emphasize "normal" or are you trying to emphasize the "non-normal" condition? Users will tend to scan from left-to-right - placing the object you want emphasize to the left would make sense as a result.

Because the "normal" condition is common across all tabs, you can also remove it from the tab's scope. You can organize the visuals in a way to further emphasize one condition over another. It also does not trick the user into thinking both graphics might be changing - the tabs clearly relate to just one graphic, not both.

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