I am building an application (Thick Client/WPF) that will run on systems that vary in specifications from a single monitor to multiple monitors. I am trying to think through the navigation and screen placement of the multiple windows that the application will have. I want to be able to place the windows on an available monitor, but I also want a consistent pattern for the user so that the window shows up where expected.

So I am looking for any information or research on multi-monitor UX design that dives into navigation, window placement, notifications, etc. by an application. There are lots of research and articles about small screen navigation, but nothing I have found that talks about Multi-Monitors.

Any links or ideas would be appreciated

Thanks Paul

  • Similar question? – user1757436 May 28 '14 at 13:01
  • I think this is a pretty good question, because if you're strictly talking multiple monitors that may only be single montiors its rather difficult to answer. I presented some concepts to the question mentioned by @user1757436 , only a few would apply here. Perhaps you could allow tabbed spaces for single monitors but the option to split a tab into it's own window ? – Garet Claborn Jun 15 '14 at 1:33
  • Thanks for the response. Our users normal workstation will be multi-monitor. But there will be users who go "on the road" who will use the application on laptops. So I need to be able to deal with both. I would also like the user to be able to easily specify which monitor a screen will be created on, both as a configuration value, and as an ad-hoc action. I currently allow the user to drag the "Create" button from a navigation panel to a monitor and have the window created there. If the user just clicks the button on the nav panel it is created on the same monitor(or where configured). – Paul Jun 30 '14 at 16:50
  • I don't think it's so much that you design FOR multiple monitors, but you design the app so it doesn't INTERFERE with those that use multiple monitors. – DA01 Sep 14 '14 at 21:00

I couldn't find any public research on this a few years back. What I did was reverse engineer patterns to determine strengths / weaknesses

  1. CAD systems => 1 display for tools & others as work space
  2. Powerpoint => master & slave display
  3. Visual Studio => collection of user organised windows
  4. Gimp => one central work areas & collection of user organised tool boxes various versions of OS and Window organisation tools have different capabilities.

I extracted that a central "work area" with other windows (I'd recommend single secondary tool panel) was easiest to make predicable across single / multiple and remains simple enough for most users.


It's seems as though a conventional method is through tabs that you can "break out". It's the same behavior that occurs when you drag a Google Chrome tab out of the window - a new window appears that you can position wherever. I've seen the same behavior in enterprise software. The viewing pane has detachable tabs allowing you to create/modify views on multiple monitors as you wish. A lot of the other menus can be broken out at moved to wherever.

The Unreal editor is a decent example from my person experience of a multi-monitor friendly program. A lot of menus, such as the content browser or properties menu, appear in floating windows. The window for the properties menu remains persistent even if you deselect something. You can move them to a second monitor and leave the main viewing area uncluttered. You can also add extra viewports using the tabbed method above.

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