I was wondering, in which case are horizontal tabs better, and in which case are vertical tabs better?

There is one answer I can already give, but I'd like to see if there are more.

Because you usually have more space vertically, vertical tabs are better, when you have a lot of tabs, whereas horizontal tabs, can give a quick overview of a small number of tabs.

  • 3
    -1. There are tons of articles on this topic and judging on your your question, it doesn't seem like you've read any. See smashingmagazine.com/2010/01/11/… for example. Or just make a Google search: google.com/search?q=horizontal+vs+vertical+navigation
    – Phil
    Commented Jun 16, 2011 at 14:00
  • @Phil That smashingmagazine link is very much oriented towards tabs as a means for navigation on websites. You can't generalize it's argumentations towards all use cases of tabs. Commented Nov 8, 2012 at 10:17

4 Answers 4


Tabs are more of a navigation element. Once you are in the tab section you don't want it to be along the content. Vertical tabs share the same horizontal space with the content, its really not a great idea unless you want to grab the users attention while they are on your content.

I believe content should be wrapped with elements that compliment it further. To keep content clean I prefer to use horizontal tabs. Remember keep minimum number of tabs, its a lot easy for users to choose.

  • 3
    I have to disagree with "Remember keep minimum number of tabs, its a lot easy for users to choose.": Use the number of tabs that makes sense for your content. See UX Myths article on this topic: uxmyths.com/post/931925744/…
    – Phil
    Commented Jun 16, 2011 at 14:10
  • I agree, it again depends. When you have a critical path drawn for your users then you control his experiencing by just offering what is needed. Too much cognitive load for armature users is not good. Works good for mission critical products where the user needs more control but not ideal for leisure products. Commented Jul 3, 2012 at 7:05
  • Any research to back this up? Commented Nov 8, 2012 at 10:11
  • I've never seen uxmyths.com. Thanks @Phil!
    – Homer
    Commented Feb 4, 2014 at 17:50

We have to keep in mind that mental models will affect the perception of our elements. So in this case, the use of tabs will depend on your audience and the kind of application. I agree with #Siddharth Menon, tabs are a navigation and usually expected to be horizontal (as they usually are in real life). I wouldn't go against vertical tabs. Maybe they can come in handy in touch devices, but again I would test it to see how the user reacts.

  • Could you give an example of 'as they usually are in real life' please? When I think of e.g. a binder with interspersed sheets indicating sections, they are very much vertical. Commented Nov 8, 2012 at 10:03
  • Oh .. you are talking about those 'filing' cabinets? In my opinion that's a bad comparison. Filing cabinets don't simultaneously show content and tabs, they are just used to search through documents, then to take out the correct one. Commented Nov 8, 2012 at 10:05

horizontal meets the expectations of a user's idea of real world tabs. Vertical are less common in real life, and do not often appear in large vertical groups.

AND, horizontal labels are easier to read, vertical is difficult.

If 'tabbing' vertically, another cognitive artefact should be used to represent the multiple pages/items.

  • I was just about to add an answer suggesting the exact opposite. My real-world experience of tabs is in a document/office context and has featured very many more vertical tabs than horizontal ones! Interesting...
    – Sam K
    Commented Jun 16, 2011 at 12:50
  • Any sources to back this up? I feel this is rather subjective, and I have some issues with the arguments you make as e.g. also mentioned in my comment on Emiliano Horcada's post. Commented Nov 8, 2012 at 10:07
  • Regarding ease of reading, vertical tabs don't necessarily have to use vertical text. For an example, see the Drupal admin interface. (This is one thing it gets right, in my opinion.)
    – iconoclast
    Commented Aug 25, 2014 at 4:03

Horizontal navigation
pro: takes up little vertical space and all space around it will be useful for other items
con: can only fit a limited amount of items in one line (you want to avoid breaking your horizontal navigation into multiple lines)
Sub menus will be always be a bit messy.

Vertical navigation
pro: you can add as many items as you like and sub items can have clear relations
con: It can be confusing to place items under your tabs, (best would be to leave it empty)

(answer from duplicate thread: https://ux.stackexchange.com/questions/19862/tabs-on-the-left-or-on-top-of-a-page/19866#19866 )

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