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I'm working on designing a prototype for an internal dashboard, and the customer is very adamant about having a horizontal tabbed view for the information displayed. Each tab will allow the customer to add/modify different information (as it relates to different types of tax accounts).

Unfortunately, tab views aren't necessarily ideal for the amount of information that will need to be displayed (it looks incredibly cluttered in early drafts), and I'm wondering if anyone had any ideas on an alternative.

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It sounds like your customer is, like everyone else I know in finance, very much hooked on Excel. It might seem horribly cluttered to you, but this person is likely used to working with giant workbooks containing lots of sheets (accessed by tabs). They rarely want to learn a new workflow, so don't break your head trying to force other solutions on them.

You can do a few small things to make a tabbed view more usable (mainly to improve navigation). Pick one or more options from below that suit your particular situation:

  • Make sure the tabs are ordered logically (e.g. alphabetical order), but check with the user to see what they see as "logical".
  • Add icons to some commonly used tabs so they are easier to find.
  • Break tabs up into sections / categories (this can be with dividers along a single row of tabs, or by using sub-tabs.
  • Provide a small side panel with a "quick links" index (i.e. you click the name and it focuses the correct tab for you) of all the tabs in the application. You can organise the links by category, and even provide "type to search" functionality.
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  • Correct! They're currently using a mainframe system (COBOL) that's almost older than I am, and accessing different screens by entering the number of a menu item, so even a cluttered tab view would be more efficient. As far as your recommendations, I've done the first one (ordered "logically"), and am considering the last one (side panel) as there are different tasks that they can do within each tab. Would you happen to have any recommendations or know of any resources that focus on laying out editable data/fields? Each tab could have up to 70 fields that the user could edit.
    – Alex
    Aug 19 '14 at 16:29
  • Break them up into categories / sections (or sub tabs, if the users don't need to see / edit everything at once). Try to cut out any fields that they don't absolutely need, and perhaps you can hide (with + and - buttons) all sections that aren't currently being edited, so you don't overwhelm the user. This question on speeding data entry might also be useful for you to look at: ux.stackexchange.com/questions/62200/…
    – Franchesca
    Aug 20 '14 at 7:15
  • Excellent! This actually helps quite a bit, and the screenshot that is in the initial message of that thread is actually VERY similar with the type of data the customer will be editing. Thank you!
    – Alex
    Aug 20 '14 at 11:09
  • @Alex Glad I could help :)
    – Franchesca
    Aug 20 '14 at 12:01
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I'm a little uncertain with the question. Are you talking about the "label" being too cluttered or the information displayed?

I deal with label issue constantly. Ultimately this is where user testing comes in. If users want long, ungainly labels - well, there it is. I try to find comprehensive words that explain it well, use roll-overs that show the sub-headings, etc...

If it's the information displayed - the dashboards I create often have several "screens" embedded within it sometimes with their own tabs. (Hidden divs actually but that's another thing.)

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  • In this instance it's the information being displayed. Currently, there are thirteen tabs on-screen, each with different information. There are a ton of business rules behind the scenes as to what fields the customer can/can't modify based on the security for their respective accounts.
    – Alex
    Aug 19 '14 at 16:24
  • I'm currently working on a dashboard that was 7 main tabs across the top. (Information in each main tab - as well as the sub tabs - differ according to permissioning levels. BUT the labels are the same for all. Inside main tab 1 (for instance) the dashboard has 3 areas. The area on the left has sub-tabs (the information is logically grouped) and selecting sub-tabs displays different information. The center portion MAY change according to the tab selected and the right side has 5 sub-tabs. One may think of this as a cascading drop-down on a grander scale.
    – Mayo
    Aug 19 '14 at 18:16

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