Re: Tabbed Dialogs: Usability Information

Subject: Re: Tabbed Dialogs: Usability Information
From: Peter Gold <pgold -at- NETCOM -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 29 Aug 1996 21:29:55 -0700

[detailed article on tabbed dialogs snipped]

Excellent coverage of this topic and it's problems in use.

While not precisely dialog boxes (more accurately, they're probably
"palettes"), FrameMaker's Paragraph Designer and Table Designer both
provide access to multiple property groups - six for paragraphs, three for
tables. It's possible to apply settings from the current group in the
designer to either the currently selected paragraph(s), or table(s); it's
also possible to apply the settings to the current format's definition,
so that all paragraphs or tables with this format name take these
settings. Unlike Word, there's no preview, but there is immediate Edit>Undo

While there is no tab metaphor, there is a popup menu to change from one
of the property groups to another. If any settings have been changed, a
message appears that asks for confirmation of the changes. While it's
annoying, it does prevent the possibility, as described in the article,
of accumulating changes and forgetting what they were.

It's risky to propose interface changes "from the hip", but perhaps it
would help in these potential "flying blind" situations if there was a
standard way toindicate that unsaved or unapplied changes exist.
FrameMaker displays an asterisk in the page count area of the
document window's status bar as soon as a document is changed ("dirty
doc" flag); it's subtle, but clear. In a larger sense, the main document
can accumulate changes anywhere that can be forgotten during one's work,
and a user may inadvertantly save them, just as a tabbed dialog that
permits movement between tabbed sections without notification that
changes exist. Probably the key difference here is one's knowledge of
"how the program/mechanism works." The less common, more idiosyncratic,
more powerful, tabbed dialog probably should err on the side of
protecting the casual user - IOW, ask when moving out of one changed
context into a new context. Perhaps a combination of a change flag and a
user-switchable confirmation message would serve here. In a tabbed
dialogue where all context areas are simultaneously identifiable, perhaps a
flag on each changed tab would be a simple solution; a popup menu only
offers one context at a time when closed.

Comments welcome!

Peter Gold
pgold -at- netcom -dot- com

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