Browser tabs as application navigation

8 Aug 2008 - 10:22am
5 years ago
10 replies
863 reads
Jennifer Cummings
2008

Has anyone ever seen a Web application that relies on the browser's tabs as
part of it's navigation?

My company is considering this as a solution for complex data management
applications, where the user needs to open and work with multiple records
at once. The plan is that the initial page (on tab 1) would contain the
main navigation, including the search function. When the user selects a
data record from the result list, it is opened into a new tab. The user can
keep returning to the initial tab, where the result list is, and open
additional records into new tabs.

The data record tabs would not include application navigation, so the user
would need to navigate back to tab 1 to initiate a new task.

I'm curious as to what others think about this solution.

Thanks!

- Jennifer

Comments

8 Aug 2008 - 10:26am
SusieComet
2006

My main concern would be the users using older browsers that don't have
multiple tabs... how would you deal with this, launch a new browser window?
Unless you have a captive audience and can ensure they're using firefox or
IE 7, you might want to rethink this.

Susan Patrick
Senior UI Designer
The Midland Company

jennifer.cummings
@highmark.com
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Subject
[IxDA Discuss] Browser tabs as
08/08/2008 11:22 application navigation
AM

Has anyone ever seen a Web application that relies on the browser's tabs as
part of it's navigation?

My company is considering this as a solution for complex data management
applications, where the user needs to open and work with multiple records
at once. The plan is that the initial page (on tab 1) would contain the
main navigation, including the search function. When the user selects a
data record from the result list, it is opened into a new tab. The user can
keep returning to the initial tab, where the result list is, and open
additional records into new tabs.

The data record tabs would not include application navigation, so the user
would need to navigate back to tab 1 to initiate a new task.

I'm curious as to what others think about this solution.

Thanks!

- Jennifer

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8 Aug 2008 - 11:22am
Jennifer Cummings
2008

Sorry, I should have noted: yes, we have a captive audience. This is
for internal employees to whom we provide the browser.

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Posted from the new ixda.org
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8 Aug 2008 - 10:47am
Sarah Selser
2008

What happens if the user "accidentally" closes the first tab?

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Posted from the new ixda.org
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8 Aug 2008 - 12:33pm
Jay Morgan
2006

Do you mean that the application will open a (web) browser for each task?
Or, do you mean that the application will have tabs for navigating, but all
navigation will reside in the application and you were just citing browser
tabs as a familiar example?

Navigation tabs are fairly well established:
http://developer.yahoo.com/ypatterns/pattern.php?pattern=navigationtabs; and
http://welie.com/patterns/showPattern.php?patternID=tabbing.

To walk through the scenario you described, it sounds like you're mixing up
navigating with task completion. Navigation accepts that a person will
browse in a manner they decide, allowing them the ability to move up down
and side to side in the site structure. Task completion is typically a
focused, if not restricted, sequence of actions. If someone has to complete
a task in this application, then don't mix it up with tabs meant to
navigate.

More specifically, you mention that they might complete a task in Tab-*n*,
and in order to kick off a new task, they would have to return to Tab-1. The
design should be well-architected so that the task hierarchy is clear. That
is, the person understands the sequence of actions and how to move through
that sequence. For example, clearly labeling, ordering, and presenting the
steps in a task sequence like this http://ui-patterns.com/pattern/StepsLeft.

Whether you choose to organize the tasks in tabs or to put them each in a
separate 'page', it should be obvious to people (outside your project team)
what it takes to complete the task, and how to move from one action to the
next. If you drop them off at the end and they don't see how to start the
next step, then you can expect low success rates.

I hope this helps.

On Fri, Aug 8, 2008 at 11:22 AM, Jennifer Cummings <
jennifer.cummings at highmark.com> wrote:

> Sorry, I should have noted: yes, we have a captive audience. This is
> for internal employees to whom we provide the browser.
>
>
> . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
> Posted from the new ixda.org
> http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=31904
>
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
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--
Jay A. Morgan

8 Aug 2008 - 1:46pm
Jared M. Spool
2003

On Aug 8, 2008, at 11:22 AM, jennifer.cummings at highmark.com wrote:

> I'm curious as to what others think about this solution.

Hi Jennifer,

I think you should mock it up and test it.

No matter what anyone has to say on this list, the best advice will
come from your users (and even yourselves) as you play with it.

A quick, working paper prototype probably wouldn't take your team more
than 30 minutes to make. Another hour or two walking around and trying
it with fellow employees will yield a wealth of knowledge and
experience.

Jared

p.s. Make sure it's a "working" paper prototype to get the best
insights. A non-working static image will limit what you learn
considerably.

Jared M. Spool
User Interface Engineering
510 Turnpike St., Suite 102, North Andover, MA 01845
e: jspool at uie.com p: +1 978 327 5561
http://uie.com Blog: http://uie.com/brainsparks

8 Aug 2008 - 1:54pm
Andrei Herasimchuk
2004

On Aug 8, 2008, at 11:46 AM, Jared Spool wrote:

> No matter what anyone has to say on this list, the best advice will
> come from your users (and even yourselves) as you play with it.
>
> A quick, working *INTERACTIVE* prototype probably wouldn't take your
> team more than *60* minutes to make. Another hour or two walking
> around and trying it with fellow employees will yield a wealth of
> knowledge and experience.

Fixed.

(Happy Friday, Jared!)

As for Jennifer's original question, the best working models with the
enterprise apps we've designed and built use fixed panels for the
general search of or browsing functions that never disappear but may
be minimized, then use tabbed panels below or to the side of that for
the record(s) that are the result of the search.

--
Andrei Herasimchuk

Principal, Involution Studios
innovating the digital world

e. andrei at involutionstudios.com
c. +1 408 306 6422

8 Aug 2008 - 5:16pm
Nathan Philpot
2007

Without any information other than what has been provided I like the
idea. Why reinvent tools that are already there.

I never really liked the close buttons/links for a window or the back
button/link in an interface when the browser already does it.

Why not use the built in features of a web browser?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
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8 Aug 2008 - 5:25pm
Nathan Philpot
2007

Without any information other than what has been provided I like the
idea. Why reinvent tools that are already there.

I never really liked the close buttons/links for a window or the back
button/link in an interface when the browser already does it.

Why not use the built in features of a web browser?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=31904

11 Aug 2008 - 8:23am
Jennifer Cummings
2008

Thanks for all of your feedback. You've made some key points, and
it's good to have this input. Just some further information for
discussion:

My team (UE) originally recommended using dynamic tabs within the
page...similar to how Yahoo! Mail opens the inbox and all messages
into separate tabs. The browser tab alternative is what the technical
team would prefer to do, because our records are much more complex
than mail messages and they are leary of the framework they would
have to build.

Some of my concerns are: If you code links to open into a new tab,
are you likely to have some of the same user confusion that we see
when links are opened into a new browser window?

How weird is it that the second level navigation (the tabs) will be
visually placed above the first level navigation (a menu bar)?

What is the risk of coding not to Web standards in this way?

What is the risk of using a solution that I, at least, have never
seen anyone else use?

As to testing, the tech team did prototype the idea and showed it to
users, who liked it because it doesn't take up much space. However,
there has been no usability testing. There isn't really time to test
well enough to reveal whether the tab idea will be confusing or
problematic, since that would require mocking up enough pages for
users to open one or more records and complete at least one task. (I
have to have a recommendation by tomorrow.)

So, I'm relying on expert opinion. If anyone has any further
thoughts, I'd love to hear them. And, I appreciate the input
you've all given me so far.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=31904

12 Aug 2008 - 7:20am
darlenepike
2007

The fact that the application will be deployed in an environment where
the browser/platform are known is not a good reason to diverge from
the usual ways that navigation is provided in browsers.

One reason that web browsers work as a vehicle for delivering internal
applications is that users are familiar with the basic way that they
operate. A tredeoff for this "out-of-the-box" interface is a limited
set of interface controls, when compared to desktop applications. That
hasn't stopped designers and coders worldwide from building some
pretty impressive applications on the world wide web. Remember that
most of the people who will be using your new application will be
familiar with the way the same browser normally works outside your
controlled environment. Introducing a different way to use a familiar
tool will cause confusion. Even after your users become familiar with
the new way of doing things, a slight confusion will always be present
as long as the world wide web at large does things slightly
differently from how your application does them.

Consider not using a standard web browser as a delivery vehicle..

On Mon, 11 Aug 2008 06:23:21, Jennifer Cummings
<jennifer.cummings at highmark.com> wrote:
> Thanks for all of your feedback. You've made some key points, and
> it's good to have this input. Just some further information for
> discussion:
>
> My team (UE) originally recommended using dynamic tabs within the
> page...similar to how Yahoo! Mail opens the inbox and all messages
> into separate tabs. The browser tab alternative is what the technical
> team would prefer to do, because our records are much more complex
> than mail messages and they are leary of the framework they would
> have to build.
>
> Some of my concerns are: If you code links to open into a new tab,
> are you likely to have some of the same user confusion that we see
> when links are opened into a new browser window?
>
> How weird is it that the second level navigation (the tabs) will be
> visually placed above the first level navigation (a menu bar)?
>
> What is the risk of coding not to Web standards in this way?
>
> What is the risk of using a solution that I, at least, have never
> seen anyone else use?
>
> As to testing, the tech team did prototype the idea and showed it to
> users, who liked it because it doesn't take up much space. However,
> there has been no usability testing. There isn't really time to test
> well enough to reveal whether the tab idea will be confusing or
> problematic, since that would require mocking up enough pages for
> users to open one or more records and complete at least one task. (I
> have to have a recommendation by tomorrow.)
>
> So, I'm relying on expert opinion. If anyone has any further
> thoughts, I'd love to hear them. And, I appreciate the input
> you've all given me so far.
>
>
> . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
> Posted from the new ixda.org
> http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=31904
>
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>

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