Tiled Working Surfaces

Examples: Context:  The artifact displays anything visual, and can be split up into multiple working surfaces; there is enough space to show all those working surfaces at once.

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


Solution:  Place the working surfaces together in a plane, such that they do not obscure each other, and show the whole thing to the user.  If the surfaces can be resized or reorganized by the user, allow it, possibly by directly adjusting the borders between them or by dragging the surfaces around (see Personal Object Space).

Resulting Context:  If two or more working surfaces hold views into Navigable Spaces, as with HTML frames, make sure that the navigation controls are associated with the working surface(s), not the whole set of tiled surfaces. This is what trips up so many users of HTML frames -- when they are working in a frame and try to Go Back One Step within that frame, the whole browser steps back to the previous site!  (This is the difference between the set of environment actions and the sets of object-related actions. Netscape eventually figured this out and put the actions for a given frame onto a popup menu, including "back.")

Consider how many working surfaces a user can really view all at once. The right answer depends entirely on the content of the surfaces and what the user does with them, but make sure you give the user all they need without overwhelming them or letting them lose their place as their attention jumps from one surface to another.  [No doubt there are concrete numbers to be found w.r.t. losing one's place... any to be found in the literature?]

Comments to:  jtidwell@alum.mit.edu
Last modified May 17, 1999

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