Stack of Working Surfaces

Examples: Bad Examples: Context:  The artifact displays anything visual, and can be split up into multiple working surfaces.

Problem:  How should the artifact's working surfaces be organized?


Solution:  Stack the surfaces together. Label each surface with a unique and recognizable name or icon (or let the user pick the label), and visually cluster those labels together near the stack.  Provide a very simple means by which a user can indicate via the label "Bring that one to the top," such as a touch with a fingertip or a click with a pointer.  If the stack is basically static, don't dynamically rearrange the relative positions of the labels, since the user then has to relearn the layout.
Resulting Context:  You need to find an organizing principle for the working-surface labels.  Ask yourself how they relate to each other structurally:  are they a flat ordered set?  A hierarchy?  A network?  Use a pattern that visually reflects the underlying structure, such as a Choice from a Small Set (e.g. tabs) for a flat ordered set, a Hierarchical Set for a hierarchy, and so on.  In the software world,  it is common to nest one Stack of Working Surfaces inside another.

Notes:  Effective tab pages on dialogs seem to max out at around 10 to a stack, but no one seems to have trouble with, say, an address book with 26 tabs from A to Z. Why not? Is it a matter of knowing exactly what to expect when you get there, or is it the entirely predictable organization of the labels, or is it just easier to deal with paper tabs than virtual ones?

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Last modified May 17, 1999

Copyright (c) 1999 by Jenifer Tidwell.  All rights reserved.