Thursday, June 23rd, 2005

Trapping the Tab

Category: Usability

The more I use the new Ajaxified the more I like it.

I had a “duh” moment when I realised that you could tab complete tags.

This brought up a usability issue. On the web we are trained to think:

Tab == Go To Next Field (or element if not in a form)

I think that and anyone trapping the tab (and others) need to follow the rules of:

  • Is it REALLY smart to trap a tab here. Do I add value.
  • If it makes sense, then I need to indicate to the user that “For One Nite Only, TAB == something else!”

What do you think?

Delicious Tab

Posted by Dion Almaer at 12:20 am

3 rating from 3 votes


Comments feed

When I first read this I thought of VB and MS Word’s “TAB to complete suggestion” feature. People who use it in Word may be familiar.

As I read in another blog post today – – “the cost of applying a tag needs to be near-zero”, so I would have thought a feature “for this web page only” would have been good.

Comment by Paul Morriss — June 23, 2005

Agree – that’s a confusing thing to do in a form. They presumably were keen to do it in a single keystroke and I guess Tab and Enter and Space would be the only reasonable choices, each with their own shortcomings.

I’d have preferred a modifier combo like Shift-Tab.
More importantly, there’s going to be others doing this and I hope that we don’t end up with 20 different conventions.

Comment by Michael Mahemoff — June 23, 2005

Re-purposing the tab is bad in html forms. Should probably use highlight-as-you-type (e.g. google suggest) which will not be confusing or unexpected (keystroke wise). Pressing “end” will also lead you to accept the suggestion highlighted.

Comment by choonkeat — June 23, 2005

Yeah I agree as well, we did some usability study on this issue for one of our customers and it was clear from what we saw that altering the binding of tab and enter key in forms can be really missleading for the user and comport great loss in data entry speed.

Comment by DivByZero — June 23, 2005

Interesting. If auto-complete is the goal, a popup list box that is navigable with arrow keys and selectede with ‘enter’ is the common affordance.

Comment by Peter Duke — June 23, 2005

I agree that Tab isn’t the ideal choice – I’d vote for the traditional drop down list. Since that requires two keystrokes (down arrow, enter) to select the first choice, maybe a hotkey (comma?) shortcut would be nice.

If they stick to tab, they already have the “Suggestions” text that appears. Adding (Click Tab) there would be sufficient.

Or how about numbering the selections, and then “1” (or 2, 3…) is the hotkey? If numbers weren’t commonly used in tags that would make sense.

Comment by Michael Moncur — June 23, 2005

If you bind TAB, how do you fill the form using the keyboard only?
Keyboard accessibility and navigation is useful. I think that is one reason Google Suggest avoided binding the TAB.

Comment by Julien Couvreur — June 23, 2005

hi dion,

your rules make sense. Not sure how I discovered it(I guess I’m a keyboard user) but apart from feeling that’s cool, just kept using it :-)


Comment by Anjan Bacchu — June 24, 2005
Comment by f j — January 14, 2006

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