Looking at mobile interface design, it is easy to conclude that navigation tabs are the most common components there.
Usually displayed on a neatly placed tab bars, user interface tabs help us switch between views and bring our mobile app to life.
If designed properly, these tabs will be everything you need to keep the interface under control, and to improve your usability rates.
Tab UI design refers, in short, to objects and ideas that enhance interaction, and let the user familiarize with app immediately. Thus, tab design is an excellent example of a successful UI metaphor, which replicates closely how users interact with products in real life.
For instance, building index card mobile menus comes quite close to building an actual catalogue, alike the one you already offer to local customers.
When executed properly, navigation tabs will have the following effects:
- Navigation will become self-evident. Mobile navigation bars should always be easy to find, as they play the role of main interface controls. They must account for the actual visual appearance users will get, and enable them to distinguish the ones they need.
- Content will become more organized. Navigation tabs are also useful to organize content and divide it in logical sections, so that the already packed mobile screen won’t look cluttered. Mobile navigation bars and tabs build a bridge between the content and the desired view, and reinvent the concept of active UI space and easy access.
- The app will look more visually consistent. Ever wondered what it is that makes mobile apps so popular? If settling for nothing less than first-class tabs design, you should make it possible for users to prioritize, and understand immediately which the leading piece is and what they can do with it.
Mobile navigation bars and tabs: Which are the differences?
Tabs and navigation bars are often confused for each other, and that’s because they look very similar. The difference between them is rather cognitive, as tabs are somehow interrelated and dependent on each other, while mobile menus are not.
Users will find it challenging to differ between them, but only until data is displayed in the tab or to the parent. In the navigation bar this may as well be a whole different action that has nothing to do with his search.
Tab UI design and when to use it
When categorizing sibling views
When arranging content in several different tabs or bottom navigation bars, make sure you’re following your organizational principle, and making each tab different and independent from the others.
For instance, there should be a tab for administration settings and one that lists the sections of your newspaper – both have a primary role, but are completely mutually exclusive.
This gives tab design an additional role you might have underestimated – they make it possible to shift between views and predict with ease what the content of a particular category is, without having to alternate their search or navigate to another area.
Most of the time, users won’t be interested to see the content of other tabs in parallel, but only for as long as they are not comparing multiple tabs at once.
If you think people would be interested to compare your content, skip tabs altogether, as asking users to switch back-and-forth will burden the memory load and compromise usability.
Filters and scope bars
An idea to arrange tabs is to embed an entire scope bar, so that users can see all fields and categories they can search through.
It is exactly tabs that mark data as ‘related’ or ‘not related’, as it is in the case of Apple’s AppStore (a dedicated view for each app that contains tabs on reviews, sib-views, and details).
Making tab design more useful
Placement tips – tabs on top of the screen
The rule of thumb says that you should always list tabs on top of the screen, rather than the bottom. This means paying respect to the natural hierarchy of things (starting from the top and moving towards the bottom), and following the usual direction in which the human eye is scanning listed content.