The Evolution of Amazon and the Tabbed Interface

Amazon.com has long been hailed by usability professionals as the premiere example of usable e-commerce. I was doing a search for information on usable tabbed interfaces this morning, and ran across this interesting historical perspective on how Amazon has changed over the years. (How could you not run across something about Amazon?)

Amazon, who popularized the tabbed interface, has now abandoned it completely–so will tabs live on? Probably. They’re still used on many big sites. Like these, for example:

The advantages of tabs is that people intuitively understand them. I remember when they first came out, I hated them. Now I use them quite often in my designs and find myself flustered trying to explain to our engineers how they should work. The engineers are reluctant to change the content of the page when the user clicks on the tab–they want to simply show the sub-menu related to that tab and wait until the user clicks before the change the page. The problem is the user is still staring at the content from the previous page, wondering why nothing happened when they clicked on the tab.

The engineers, of course, have a valid point–they don’t want to overload the servers to serve content that the user may not want. I contend that when a user opens a tab, they want to see something in the tab! So we have an ongoing argument on the interface. Or perhaps it’s just me that has the argument and the engineers are just ignoring me (which is why I have to rant here!)

Okay, I digress. The Amazon article doesn’t go into any of that, but it is quite interesting to anyone who studies user experience.

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1 Response to “The Evolution of Amazon and the Tabbed Interface”


  1. 1 Suffian Rahman June 19, 2008 at 8:02 am

    Thanks for the post! I recently read about Amazon.com’s pioneering of tabbed navigation in Steve Krug’s book “Don’t Make Me Think” and was wondering if anyone had done some more recent analysis of their own. LukeW’s research is quite impressive, too.

    I’m a big fan of tabs but only if they’re done to highlight navigation better, and not just for the sake of trends or artistic value.

    I think the next step in tabs is perhaps a little customization; what if you could permanently delete tabs that aren’t relevant to you on a main navigation? It probably sounds a little far-fetched but I think it would be kind of cool if you could just lose parts of a site that you won’t ever look at. Then you’d be able to spend more time looking at things that you’re interested in. Would such a thing boost conversation rates?


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