February 25, 2021
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Designing a GUI

  • By John Percival
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Another aspect of user interface design, that is often overlooked, is the tab order. Believe it or not, many people still move around a form with the tab key.   Many of these users, including myself, become annoyed when the focus between controls shifts around erratically.  For example, if you had a standard font dialog, wouldn't it be annoying if the focus shifted from the font name list, to an underline check box, to the OK button, to the size selector, to the bold check box?  This would be very frustrating for the user, and would not persuade them to come back and buy your next product.

If developers would take a few minutes to insure that the tab order is properly laid out, it would make navigation easier.  In fact, no one would notice, but that's a good thing, remember!  To do so is also quite easy. After you lock your form, don't click on the first control, as you would expect, but on the last control that you want in the tab order. This should be located in the bottom right-hand side of the form. Now work you way back across the form, from right to left, and then up, setting the taborder of each control that you come to to 0. Although this sounds stupid, by the time that you come to the first control, all the others will be in order. It is important to note that while labels are frames have a TabIndex property, they are actually skipped in the tab order.

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This article was originally published on November 20, 2002

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