A Beginner’s Guide to Designing Effective Tabs Interactions
When you think about the types of interactions most often used in e-learning, the good old tabs interaction is probably on the top of your list. That’s no big surprise. Tabs interactions are versatile and a great way to intuitively lay out related content, save screen real estate, and invite your learners to dig in and absorb information at their own pace.
On top of their versatility, tabs interactions are quick and easy to build. In Rise 360, creating a tabs interaction is super-simple. Just insert a tabs block (from the interactive blocks menu) into your lesson and then pop in your content. Voilà! Instant tab-ification! Over in Storyline 360, you can grab a Content Library 360 template that has a beautiful prebuilt tabs interaction (like this one) and then customize it to your heart’s content, or you can create a custom tabs interaction in under five minutes.
When your project requires a custom tabs interaction built from scratch in Storyline 360 and you’re brand new to creating such things and/or feel (very!) intimidated at the prospect, how can you be sure you’re making a tabs interaction that looks professional AND will be intuitive for learners? Should you even use a tabs interaction at all?
These are the questions we’ll tackle in this article. I’m breaking down a few easy design considerations for building effective tabs interactions by highlighting some simple functional and visual design guidelines almost anyone can follow.
Consider your content
Tabs are a great option for presenting related content, like a collection of tips, steps in a process, or ideas that might otherwise end up as a list of bullet points or text spread out over multiple slides.
For example, this free tabs download from Montse uses a familiar notebook theme to group related content.
Montse's project looks so vibrant and inviting that you might ask yourself, Should I just use a tabs interaction for everything?
The short answer is no. But here are a few questions to consider to see if a tabs interaction is the best fit for your content:
- Is the information I’m sharing all logically related? If the information can’t be chunked together in a logical way, using a tabs interaction might end up being confusing to learners.
- Will my learners need to compare any information side by side? If the point of sharing this information with learners is to help them understand the differences and similarities between products, for instance, a tabs interaction isn’t the best choice since they’ll only be able to see the content on one tab at a time. To help learners draw comparisons, try a side-by-side or table layout instead.
- Can I make this information more concise? Sometimes streamlining lots of content—even if it is all related—just isn’t ideal. If streamlining content means you’ll sacrifice reading comprehension or gloss over an important message, cramming it into a tabs interaction isn’t the answer. In general, if you find yourself reducing the font size to make everything fit, consider that a sign that your content might not work for a tabs interaction. In some cases that content may work better as a sub-menu that branches to separate slides so you have more screen real estate to work with.
Use straightforward tab labels
The beauty of a tabs interaction is that it groups related information in a way that’s intuitive to navigate. One of the ways these types of interactions are made so intuitive is through the use of labels. Tab labels should be short and sweet and reflect the type of content you’re sharing. Tab labels can take many different forms, including numbers or letters (that may convey order or priority), words or short phrases, icons or images—and even a combination of these things.
Below are a few free downloads featuring some different ways of labeling tabs.
Tabs Labeled with Numbers or Letters
Tabs Labeled with Words or Phrases
Tabs Labeled with Icons or Images
Consider tab placement
Crafting clear labels is just the first step in ensuring your tabs interaction is easy to navigate. It’s equally important to arrange your tabs on the screen in a way that makes sense.
So how should you position your tabs for an effective interaction? Ideally, tabs should be aligned vertically or horizontally on the screen, spaced evenly and closely—but not so close that it’s hard for learners to click on individual tabs.
Below is a quick comparison of two tabs designs.
Notice how the tab design on the left is intuitive to use because the tabs are grouped together in a single vertical line? When you look at the design on the right it’s a bit harder to parse what’s going on because the tabs aren't spaced evenly and it’s not clear if they’re separate or related. Making sure the tab size, spacing, and alignment are consistent will go a long way in making your interaction easy to navigate.
Make your tabs look clickable
Once you’ve arranged your tabs you need a way for folks to know that they’re clickable. That’s where object states come into the picture. In Storyline 360, object states allow you to change the appearance of an object when a learner performs an action, like hovering or clicking on it. It’s a simple concept, but a powerful way to make any slide’s design more user-friendly.
For instance, applying a simple hover state to your tabs signals to your learners that there’s more to see and explore.
In Storyline 360, it’s easy to assign different states to the objects on your screen, like tabs, buttons, characters, text—pretty much anything.
By applying a selected state to a tab, you can signal to your learners that they’re viewing the content associated with the tab they clicked on.
You can also add a visited state to your tab so learners know that they’ve already reviewed the information in a given tab.
Using all of these states is an even better idea.
When used together these states highlight and emphasize how to navigate your tabs.
There’s more to learn
They say the devil is in the details, and that certainly holds true for designing interactive e-learning. It’s exciting to think about all the little considerations that go into making even something as unassuming as a tabs interaction more beautiful and intuitive. Hopefully the guidelines I’ve shared here have you feeling more confident about designing all sorts of interactions in your Storyline projects, including tabs.
Want to learn more about building effective tabs interactions in Storyline 360? Check out the following articles for more ideas, tips, and inspiration.
- The Most Straightforward Way to Build a Tabs Interaction for Storyline
- Everything You Need to Know About States in Storyline 360
- A Great Storyline Time Saver: Button Sets
- Create a Tabs Interaction with Storyline in 5 Short Minutes
Follow us on Twitter and come back to E-Learning Heroes regularly for more helpful advice on everything related to e-learning. If you have any questions, please share them in the comments.
Want to try building something similar in Storyline 360, but don’t have Articulate 360? Start a free 30-day trial.