While fixing a small UI fail on one of the tag info pages recently, the inconsistency in tabs, filtering, and sorting finally got to me.

As I'm sure you are all aware, we use tabs throughout the site as our hammer looking for nails.

Current gripes

  • Tabs are used inconsistently: section navigation, filtering, sorting, extra links, etc.
  • The accompanying metadata is not displayed consistently (e.g. number of results)
  • Using tabs for both filtering and sorting means that you get what you get, and it's not possible to both filter and sort
  • The metadata for question lists, like number of results, is currently in the right sidebar, where it is seemingly orphaned from where all the action is happening

So I've spent a few hours trying to figure out if we can simplify the tab area to address these problems and hopefully add more flexibility.

Proposed solution

(See wireframe below):

  • Tabs will be restricted to navigation or filtering, with the definition of filtering being the number of questions returned would be less than the superset. This means that the tabs in the current questions section would be reduced to "featured, frequent, unanswered", and a new section called "all"
  • A new sort drop-down will be added to each page directly underneath the tabs which will be consistent across pages except that items that don't make sense on the current page will be removed.
  • Result counts and descriptions (e.g. 0 questions tagged php) will be left justified on the same line as the sort drop-down
  • Ideally, we would never need subtabs, but if it's absolutely necessary it would appear above the sort drop-down
  • Related information, like the tag information box at the top of the question list would be simplified and move to the right sidebar, where related information should be


If we end up going this direction, the changes would apply to every page with tabs, including search results.

I've attempted to address all of the gripes without losing any features. In fact, each tab would be much more flexible because of multiple sorts available.

The only significant downside that I can think of is that sometimes we might need to fudge a filter into a sort to avoid using sub tabs. For example, clearly "my tags" would be a filter because the number of questions would be reduced from the total number of questions. However, to keep existing functionality, we might have to have a "my tags" sort option on other pages that would push questions in your favorite tags to the top. It makes me feel funny, but I could live with it.

Since this is a fairly big UI change, I'd like to get some preliminary thoughts before I get too far into this.

Proposed UI

Proposed new tab and sort structure

Proposed tag metadata changes

proposed tag

  • I think you should have posted this on User Experience first. Perfectly fine for MSO off course, but it wouldn't hurt if you went for the expert answers first. – yannis Apr 3 '13 at 4:33
  • @Yannis In this case, I'm more interested in whether people think they would like this solution than whether it is technically correct. But I do reach out to the user experience site often. – Jeremy T Apr 3 '13 at 4:41
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    My own personal gripe: I hate sites that use dropdowns for navigation. Particularly those that require me to click on the list item thereby mucking up keyboard navigation, but even when they get that right it still seems wrong. – Shog9 Apr 3 '13 at 4:55
  • Heh, I remember noticing someone asking on UX about SE's tag system, but I didn't remember it was you. – yannis Apr 3 '13 at 4:56
  • @Shog9 In this case, the drop-down isn't for navigation, it's for sorting. – Jeremy T Apr 3 '13 at 5:08
  • More griping: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/135067/… – Manishearth Apr 3 '13 at 5:12

Initial thoughts:

  • If you're gonna change things to make them more consistent, be consistent: "my tags" is most definitely a filter, not a sort. I'm unclear on why you'd need or want to make it a sort unless you're looking to drop /unanswered as well... Please don't do that; you'll also end up needing a "no answers" sort to preserve existing behavior, and that's just silly. (I could see wanting the "my tags" filter made available in other contexts, but that's kind of a separate feature... Maybe as a search option?)

  • Don't break the ability to link directly to a given category, filter, sort, page... Right now, if I give someone a link to something, I know they're gonna see more or less what I'm seeing (within a reasonable timeframe); I don't have to worry that their filtering or sort preferences will give them an entirely different set of questions. I'm particularly concerned that splitting sorting and filtering will mean two different viewers can follow the same link and end up seeing different extremes.

  • Fix accidental changes to 'sticky' prefs: that link in the previous bullet? If you clicked it, it just changed your preferences for filtering/sort and number of questions per page. Next time you visit, say, a tag you'll have to remember to change those back to whatever you actually want them to be... Or you'll be wondering where all the Magento questions went to. This is unlikely to be an easy fix.

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