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In my UI I have a Ribbon control, that is divided into tabs of commands that belong to a certain functionality of the program.
It is a data analysis software, so I have a tab containing functions for the analysis, and another tab containing functions for plotting the data.

I have one command that cycles modes for a basic transformation of the data. This transformation is very important for the analysis, but it is also often used as a first step while looking at the data and plotting it differently.

This command is currently located in the Data Analysis Tab, as it is very relevant to the analysis. But while watching users I noticed that many look for this function in the Plotting tab first and get confused when they don't find it there.

I thought about it and I have basically three options:

  • Leave it in the Data Analysis Tab: This has the described problem.
  • Move it to the Plotting Tab: This may shroud the importance of the command for the analysis and may lead to confusion when the analysis suddenly gives different results.
  • Put the same command into both tabs: This may not communicate the fact, that it is the very same command, and may lead to the thought that there is a "plotting transformation" and an "analysis transformation" as separate entities.

But I'm just guessing here.

Is there some research if the last point is even a problem, or some consensus how something like this should be approached from an UI standpoint? I am leaning to the third option personally, as it may present as the one that is best usable for the users.

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This may be a good example of the caveat contained in the MS guidelines for Ribbons. Generally the guidelines have this to say about duplicating items between tabs:

Here are some common pitfalls to avoid

...

Avoid multiple paths to the same command—especially if the path is unexpected or the command requires many clicks to invoke. It may seem like a convenience to find a command through multiple paths. But keep in mind that when users find what they are looking for, they stop looking. It is all too easy for users to assume that the first path they find is the only path—which is a serious problem if that path is inefficient or unexpected. Furthermore, having duplicate commands makes it harder for users to find other commands they are scanning for.

But then anyone who's used an MS Office ribbon will notice that they do offer the same items in different tabs - usually this happens with the Home tab, which is basically made up of items also appearing in the "thematic" tabs.

So the Home tab might be an exception to this rule. As a matter of fact, the guidelines do mention it as an exception - but to a different set of rules (on tab naming):

The Home tab is an exception to these considerations. While you don't have to have a Home tab, most programs should. The Home tab is the first tab, and contains the most frequently used commands. If you have frequently used commands that don't fit into the other tabs, the Home tab is the right place for them.

From what you describe it may be that the Home tab is the best solution for this action. Then you can also have in one of the original tabs. I'd say you should use card sorting to determine the best location. Or in general research it with users (card sorting might be overkill for just one item).

  • Thank you for your answer. The command is very simple, just 1 click, no subdialogs, etc, and the user will probably expect it in either of the tabs, based on if he is analysing or plotting the data. So it may count as an exception to that rule. Home tab is a good pointer as well. I only have simple stuff like save/load/help/about there currently. I guess you are right that I should involve the users, what they find intuitive. It can basically only get better in that regard. I don't have dedicated testers, but I can muster up some colleagues I guess ;-) – Jens Nov 7 '15 at 20:37
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    There's no such thing as a rule in UX, merely a strongly worded guideline. If it makes sense for your users, ignore any rules you don't like the look of. – Jon Story Nov 8 '15 at 20:45

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