Common design patterns and how to prototype them

Instant Axure RP Starter

January 2013


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When you tackle a design challenge and decide to re-use a solution that was used in the past, you probably have a design pattern. Design patterns are commonly used concepts that plead to be re-used. They save time, they are well recognized by a majority of users, they provide their intended functionality, and they always work (well, assuming you selected the right design pattern and used it in the right place).

In this article , we will prototype one of the commonly used design pattern,:

  • Module tabs pattern

Once you created a design pattern prototype, you can copy and paste it into an Axure project. A better alternative is to create a custom widgets library and load it into your Axure environment, making it handy for every new prototype you make.

Module tabs

Module tabs pattern allows the user to browse through a series of tabs without refreshing the page.

Why use it?

Module tabs design pattern is commonly used in the following situations:

  • When we have a group of closely related content, and we do not want to expose it to the user all at once. (In order to decrease cognitive load, because we have limited space, or maybe in order to avoid a second navigation bar.)

  • When we do not care for (or maybe even prefer) a use case where a visitor interacts only with one pane at a time, thereby limiting his capability to easily compare information or process data simultaneously. is using it

A module tabs design is used in for a quick toggle between Flights and Hotels. By default, the user is exposed to Hipmunk's prime use case, which is the flight search.

Prototyping it

This is a classic use of the Axure dynamic panels. We will use a mixture of button-shaped widgets along with a dynamic panel.

A module tabs design is comprised of a set of clickable tabs, located horizontally on top of a dynamic content area. Tabs can also be located vertically on the left side of the content area.

We will start with creating a content area having three states:

  1. Drag a Rectangle-Dropshadow widget from the Better Defaults library into the wireframe and resize it to fit a large enough content area. This will be our background image for all content states. Now drag a Dynamic Panel widget, locate it on top of the rectangle, and resize it to fit the blank area. Label the dynamic panel with a descriptive name (the Label field is in the Widget Properties pane). In this example we will use the label: content-area dPanel.

  2. Examine your dynamic panel on the Dynamic Panel Manager pane, and add two more states under it. Since we are in the travel business, you can name them as flight, hotel, and car (these states are going to include each tab's associated content).

  3. Put some text in each of the three dynamic panel states to easily designate them upon state change (later on you can replace this text with some real content).

In the screenshot that follows, you can see the content-area dPanel with its three states.

Next, we will add three tab buttons to control these three states:

  1. We are going to experiment a little bit with styles and aesthetics, so let's hide the dynamic panel object from view by clicking on the small, blue box next to its name on the Dynamic Panel Manager pane. Hiding a dynamic panel has no functional implication; it will still be generated in the prototype.

  2. Drag one basic Rectangle widget, and place it above our large dropshadow rectangle. Resize the widget so that it will have the right proportions.

In the following screenshot, you can see the new rectangle widget location. Also you can see what happens when we hide the dynamic panel from view:

When a tab is selected (becomes active), it is important to make it look like it is part of the active area. We can achieve this by giving it the same color of the active state background as well as eliminating any border line separating them. But let's start with reshaping the rectangle widget, making it look like a tab:

  1. Right-click on the Rectangle widget and edit its shape (click on Edit button shape and select a shape). Choose the rounded top shape. This shape has no bottom border line and that's why we like it.

  2. Notice the small yellow triangle on top of the rounded top. Try to drag it to the left. You will see that we can easily control its rounded corners' angle, making it look much more like a tab button (See the screenshot that follows).

Now that we have a nice looking tab button we can move forward.

  1. By default, the tab should have a gray color, which designates an unselected state. So, select the widget and click on Fill color button on the Axure toolbar to set its default color to gray.

  2. Once the tab is selected, it needs to be painted white, so that it easily blends with the content area background color under it. To do that, right-click on the tab and edit its selected style (Edit button shape Edit selected style|); the fill color should be set to white (select the preview checkbox to verify that).

  3. We are almost done. Duplicate the tab and place three identical widgets above the content area. Move them one pixel down so that they overlap and hide the rectangle border line underneath them.

In the screenshot that follows, you can see how the three tabs are placed on top of the white rectangle in such a way that they hide the rectangle's border line.

Examine the split square in the upper-left corner of each tab widget you created. You can preview the rollover style and selected state style of the widget by hovering over and clicking on it. Try it!

The last thing to do is to add interactions. We would like to set a tab to the selected state upon mouse click, and to change the state of content-area dPanel accordingly.

  1. Put a name on each tab (Flight, Hotel, and Car), and give each tab a descriptive label. Set the OnClick event for each tab to perform two actions:

    • Set Widget(s) to selected state: Setting the widget after it was clicked to be in a selected style.

    • Set Panel state(s) to state(s): Setting the dynamic panel state to the relevant content (Flight, Hotel, or Car).

  2. Since we would like to have only one selected widget at a time, we should put the three of them in a selection group. Do that by selecting all the three widgets, right-clicking, and choosing the menu option Assign Selection Group.

  3. Each time this page is loaded, the Flight tab needs to be selected. To do that, we will configure the OnPageLoad event to set the Flight tab to be selected (find it at the pane located under the wireframe). By the way, there is no need to set the dynamic panel state to flight as well since it is already located on top of the three states in the Dynamic Panel Manager pane, making it the default state.

In the screenshot that follows, you can see the Page Interactions pane located under the wireframe area. You can also see that the flight state is the one on top of the list, which makes it the dynamic panel's default view.

The menu navigation widget cannot be used as an alternative for the tab buttons design explained here. The reason is that the navigation menu does not support the Selection Group option.


In this article, we learned about one of the three commonly used UI design patterns, Module Tabs and learned how to prototype them using the key features of Axure. We can now work more efficiently with Axure and will be able to deliver detailed designs much faster.

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