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Blender Guru Podcast: The Reason for Tabs – with Jonathan Williamson


Edit Mode TabsJonathan Williamson revisits the Blender Guru podcast to shed some more light on the new tab user interface. If this interests or worries you, I suggest you take the time to listen to it. Like the previous podcast on this topic - it's LONG! Be prepared to take 2 hours to listen through this.

About Author

Bart Veldhuizen

I have a LONG history with Blender – I wrote some of the earliest Blender tutorials, worked for Not a Number and helped run the crowdfunding campaign that open sourced Blender (the first one on the internet!). I founded BlenderNation in 2006 and have been editing it every single day since then ;-)


  1. I tried tabs, and it looks promising
    to me. Has blender ever published a tool that has been taken out in
    the next build? What do we stand to lose? I feel that there is a
    sort of repression to grow in blender, as if the ones that attack
    blender do not want to see it succeed. I have 5 years invested in
    blender and I would love to see it move forward.

    • It's more a sense of overprotectiveness on the part of those who like it the way it is and don't want it to change even for the convenience of others. The infighting against tabs started way back last year with complaints of "MS Ribbon Blender" and "Toy Blender" and my hope is that enough people will gain some perspective from this podcast, that as a community we can all be more aware of the issues and foster a more constructive and less adversarial approach in guiding the evolution of this software.

  2. It's great to see JW working so hard on UI. He is really passionate about improving Blender and I think he will do a lot of good in the long run.

  3. Tabs are pretty cool as a mean to bring order and hierarchy to the tools.

    However I am curious if a well made pie system will be faster to access.
    Most of my Autodesk apps use the mouse center pie system with gestures.

    • I'm in the same mind about this. I love the new tabs and the are bringing some order to the tool bars but above all else I would take a pie menu. I am not big on mouse travel in any program. I tried out the pie-menu script that was floating but to me it has a big disadvantage that it is not tied to the RMB but is called through various key-board short-cuts. That is what ultimately I would love a pie menu that is context sensitive.

      • In the recent software I use the Pie menu is even context sensitive and shows tools which can only be used. But the biggest interesting part is the gesture move.

        While I think I would still use hotkeys more and for ever than scrolling through a menu I think the tabs and pie menus are nice additions.

        But I found the tabs/toolbar be a nice tool for teaching students the software and those who do not use the software alot I think appreciate the visual quality of tabs. When we have tool icons as well I think it will be really good for semi users and new beginners.

  4. Nathan van Hulst on

    Using blender since 2.24, and it's my favo 3D package, even tho I don't really make a lot of art with it.

    However, I see the biggest mistake being made in over 10 years inside Blender 3D

    Vertical Text in a Interface.

    Every interface designer knows.... this is like Comic Sans for typewriters and desktop publishers. You just can't do that. Sorry to say. An interface designer would never ever add vertical text in a UI that's all horizontal focused with texts. It's a strange duck between a flock of swans. Unless there is a good reason for it, but just adding vertical tabs with vertical text without argumenting why, isn't a good reason. I understand that it makes navigating easier for people using tools a lot. But still that's no reason to put text in a UI vertical. Just think about this: where have you seen vertical text in a UI in a big commercial piece of software that worked well?

    I beg this community to have a real interface designer look at this, before this Comic Sans on Interface Design hits the road. I'm not another user posting something, I mean this for real, I love Blender, but this can't be true. Tabs fine, I understand that, but vertical text.... just guys....come on!

      • Nathan van Hulst on

        It's true that they use it there. However is it easy to read and should we follow someones mistakes?
        For example, I opened that image you replied, and directly I searched for the vertical texts. Then I try to read within a few miliseconds what's in there. You'll notice it takes a bit more time to read that.

        I'll give you an example why it's not good for an UI.

        The words tools, that's easy to read right?
        Now see the words Paint and Hair. Don't they feel strange to you, especially the 'a' in there? I think you'll come up in mind... mmmh yeah a little. Because the letter design of 'a' isn't ment to be readed in that direction.

        Besides that, if you place texts vertical, in modo they did something else badly wrong. The text is put there to be seen from top to bottom. If you decide to place text vertical, never place it from top to bottom.

        At least that's something that was done right in the blender proposal, because vertical text should be placed from bottom to top.

        The rules of text and placing them can be really hard. For a Desktop Publisher at a graphic Design studio, that is his main job all day long. Placing text to be readed well, fast and even understandable without reading the whole words. Newspapers for example, placing the articles with texts can be something close to almost math, not that hard, but a bit of a challenge.

        Sometimes text isn't ment to be understand, but ment to be recognized, even without knowing what it says. Tools for example, you know it means tools and that there is something you can use. Well after using that tools tab for 3 months, you dont read tools anymore. You'll just search with your eyes for something that looks familiar to a text saying "Tools", but do you read it or just look for a pattern?

        Even after 6 months you'll not look for the word tools and nor the pattern, but your muscles know where it's position is on screen. basicly a UI without text will do the job. :)

        Now back on topic about the vertical text in the Blender tabs. It isn't about the readability, but about the duck in a flock of swans. Every text in horizontal aligned in Blender, only the tools isn't. I know it's a good solution and I know there isn't any other way, but for now it's a good patch on the wound. However when someone takes a look at the whole Blender UI, this should be something to be looked at...

        Make an UI that shines a straight and clear design, but also a clear reason why it's made like that. Besides this vertical text, it has lots of other flaws as well.

        After listening to the postcast, I hope this is constructive feedback ;) yes I listened to all of it :P

        A fun did you know: same vertical text in tabs mistake made on 3Ds Max ribbon interface. :)

        • Krystof Klestil on

          Vertical Text... well truth to be told, I am also noting this as C&C of course, i've been trying the tabs out for a few days, and I've worked with them a lot and I hadn't realized the text was vertical until just now! Never thought of it as difficult to read either. My 3 cents.

          • Nathan van Hulst on

            I guess you're in that 6 months phase ;)
            A beginner will read everything the first few weeks / months to understand it all. We need to keep that in mind. I wouldn't mind either, I can get used to it, but not when I would be a beginner.

          • I hope you realize this is a work in progress,

            And you might once read the text of tabs big deal and then memorize it. Do you read every letter of a word in a book to read the words? No you scan.

            Spend some time with taps and you just know which order to click to go to where you want.

        • "For example, I opened that image you replied, and directly I searched for the vertical texts. Then I try to read within a few miliseconds what's in there. You'll notice it takes a bit more time to read that. I'll give you an example why it's not good for an UI."

          Having used vertical toolbars in programming since Visual Studio 6 days, not only do you get used to it quickly, but it's the single best way to minimize wasted space. Blender's implementation is ok, but still too tied down to the horrible buttonslider layout

    • "Just think about this: where have you seen vertical text in a UI in a big commercial piece of software that worked well?"

      Looks like I'm a bit late in answering here (I took hours to make this), but still I'll say it: modo does. And does well.

      modo gets heralded as one of the smartest UIs around, by many of its professional users--a user base that's rapidly growing. It does its own thing, but does it well, once you learn it.

      The problem isn't so much the usage of vertical text in an interface. If you have a reason for it and implement it well enough, it can work.

      Vertical text helps with having enough space to label the tabs grouping without rearranging the manner in which the tool labels themselves are horizontally-read but vertically-arranged.

      The reason's technically there for Blender--the issue being addressed now is, if we're to keep the horizontally-read vertically-arranged tools as presently stands, how accessing them should best be implemented.

      To keep the toolbar in its familiar format but optimizing its grouping and labeling, there's not really much getting around using vertical tab labeling.

      It's a general guideline to not use vertical text needlessly, but every guideline has its exceptions, when needed and when best implement to that need. Again, modo breaks this rule effectively with careful thought behind its design.

      modo is the product of a LOT of careful thought and feedback (their forums from industry professionals are a testament to such). Like Blender, they too use a vertical toolbar for their main modeling tools, and use a vertical labels to group them. However, notice how they do it:

      Blender is vertically-labeled with the labels facing with the top of the words facing leftward. You're not only forced to read upward, which is unnatural, but is there because the scroll bar indicator hogs up the right side.

      And as the system currently stands, even with pinning the tabs, you still find yourself doing some scrolling, particularly with the main Tools tab, and the problem worsens when you activate some Addons (such as Sculpt Tools) that lengthen the toolbar, staying miscellaneously on each tab category without a tab of their own ("residue," as I call it).

      If you have to scroll at all and if "residue" options persist, you're not really getting the maximal power of tabs. The point of tabs is brevity and keeping all options visible without a whole lot of searching and scrolling, and no excess. That was the very thing that modo sought to eliminate altogether--and well succeeded.

      modo designers have considered that if you're going to use vertical labels, to have them read going down (with the top of the words facing rightward) and to have them closer at hand.

      They've also saved some space in the toolbar by assigning self-explanatory icons to the most basic operations (with mouse-hover labels), allowing the more complex operations to use text labels.

      And finally, they eliminated the need for scrolling, by using collapsed arrows to show options that extend outside the toolbar's sized region, which also leaves the space for operation options in the region below the toolbar freer (instead of needing to resize the toolbar vertically just to eliminate scrolling):

      modo has its team of UI designers who know all the general rules and aims of solid design, but they also can afford to break some of those rules to cater to feedback from their most dependable critics--the professionals
      and power-users. No rule is one size fits all--actual experience helps size a rule.

      In addition to the rules they've effectively broken to suit need, they also give the users several ways to access options, to accommodate any kind of user (menu, hotkey and layout users). They have a nice pie menu which offers Toolbox options, as well as a Layout Switcher tab to allow quick switching between all modo's layout modes. Heck, you can even just rip the toolbar right out of its place and put it wherever you want!

      Personally, since most of the toolbar options are available several ways (Vertex/Edge/Face context menus, Dynamic Spacebar Menu, hotkeys, search bar, etc.), it seems to me that if we saw the few default options that are more exclusively assigned to the Toolbar (such as Rigid Body Tools and Grease Pencil's non-hotkey options), we'd really only need to

      I hope we see some of the toolbar functions assigned to LMB, since such toolbar options are far more frequented than cursor placement and because placing the cursor is something we could easily assign to something like Ctrl + LMB to do the same thing with no heavy cost to relearning or redesign.

      Also, if we're not going to have undockable menus, then I'd at least hope that sometime in the near future we'll see Blender start taking advantage of the header bar, which, in my opinion, is just wasted space and thus wasted opportunity:

      Though, still, I commend the great effort the team has been heading with improving Blender's current UI. I don't want to seem undermining or unappreciative of their brave effort (this job just ain't easy). They're headed in the right direction--they're just working out the issues for themselves in which modo's developers have done for themselves.

      It'll take some time for Blender to find its own balance between principles of solid user design and reliable real-world feedback from its power-users.

    • "Just think about this: where have you seen vertical text in a UI in a big commercial piece of software that worked well?"

      Visual studio, especially VS2012/2013, AutoCAD, I can go on and on with commercial programs meant for professionals that use vertical tabs

  5. Orustam Manapov on

    first of all it is nice to hear what you guys think about comments, that users are posting. IMHO it is hard to point out bad parts( or at least what we perceive as bad, and by saying we i mean people that have another opinion on them than just: "oh, no i don't like them", or: "i hate them" ) in a small textbox. Tabs are actually good and i mean i like them and i would like to see them as part of blender UI, but IMO i think they took a start at the wrong place. And because of the tabs i fear that the real problems of the UI( such as space that labels are taking, or extra space lost on scrollbars, particularly around them, or rounded corners of scrollbars, or collapsing scrollbars in VSE, or text alignment, or layer stacking order of grease pencil layers or mask layers, or i just say the property editor, because it has a lot of stuff that could be changed and my list actually could be much longer but i will stop here ) won't be addressed. What i really like about new tabs is that they take small space, really well done but seeing names like Jonathan Williamson and Andrew Price( i am sorry that not mentioning anyone else it is just that i followed their work and it seems like they know how to make stuff look good, I've watched their tutorials for a while ) i did expect that from the UI team to be honest, but here comes the bad stuff and you probably heard it a lot tabs are vertical and that is bad and unfortunately many good software vendors have already implemented vertical tabs. And here is why: when i started to learn stuff about design i thought it is all about making stuff look good, but I've heard a lot designers saying that design is problem solving and know i get why when we say design we think about beautiful things it is just because to make us buy something designers should make it pleasant for us to make us buy it. If I get it right you made them to organize stuff, and you do it make you stuff accessible and easy to reach when you need it, and here is my problem: it makes me feel really unpleasant to read vertical tabs, and why is that a problem? because you put text on tabs to read it in the first place, and according to negative comments you've already received I'm not the only one feeling that way. If you know "visual studio express"? It is actually great editor and if you ask people working with it on windows, they just love, it may sound silly but the only thing that hindered me from using this free editor were vertical tabs. IMO it is the next right button in blender. And again i love horizontal tabs, but would want to see them in toolbar either. If you take current blender UI imagine you would have horizontal tabs on the toolbar and now imagine multiple tabs, and how do you wan't to manage them? The only thing that is uglier than vertical tabs are tabs that are stacked on top of each other. And if not tabs than what? like i already said nothing against tabs, for example take approach that photoshop or after effects are using or take the example Andrew Price has showed on his video about problems of blender UI( but i would make them collapsible, because many professionals need more vertical space ). An in general take this example: if you have stuff at home that you want to put in boxes, because you need more space you actually end up throwing some stuff away, because you don't need it anymore and at some point you will realize that you don't need any boxes, so sometime it is better to go with less tabs more reorganization. People don't write these stuff in the comments because it is hard to put everything in one comment box, it would be great to have some forum thread where UI team members would show up once in a while to check for interesting ideas people posting. Interesting would be put some stuff on trello to let people vote, not to go with all people vote for but to get general idea of what are stats of people liking that and not. Although blender is open source and pretty open for community it is good to have some restrictions. Take for example photoshops dark team it is gorgeous and you see really rare people changing it and if they change they have just dark grey and grey themes i think. Imagine people could change button color, although it might seem as a good idea, but in the end people would end up changing colors and making ugly themes( with some exceptions ).

    • Nathan van Hulst on

      vertical tabs are indeed worth for discussion, especially vertical text, I agree on your arguments too. However Jonathan had a good point too, here some highlights from the Podcast.

      - Fast, no need to scroll and nothing off screen ( hate that in 3Ds max too, I expanded my tool screen there :P )
      - Fits in a good workflow and enables to build up muscle memory. ( that's a heavy notice tbh, really! )

      But as seen in a width variety of software applications, they are hard to fit in an interface and developers are struggling with them. For instance Photoshop and Adobe Flash editor take a total different approach to vertical tabs, they made the tabs horizontal to get around this issue. I'm not saying this is a good solution, but it shows how big companies have the same problem.

      For now it's a patch, for the future.. we need something better. And I think all who agree with that, should come up with a solution. I'm actually willing to help the Blender Foundation, I struggle with that for many years. But I have no idea where to start. But if I could help with this, maybe we come up with a good solution for the future.

      • I really wish I was able to track down this picture, I have tried for hours with no success. Someone posted a mockup of a slightly wider vertical tab, with the text rotated a few degrees to the right. This contributed two potential advantages: the text itself was slightly more readable, and the height of the tabs was slightly reduced. The one potential pitfall I was able to perceive, was that the width of the tab itself would need to be carefully considered, and if the dimensions of the tab were indeterminate in both the horizontal and vertical directions instead of just one, I can't foresee the difficulties it might pose in practice just from the mockup.

      • Orustam Manapov on

        thanks for great reply I've already read your previous comments and came to conclusion that you did put a lot of thought in it. Tabs discussions could really last forever, but my point is actually - should we really start with tabs? I mean go through blender's toolbar for example, you will find buttons but are they really what we perceive as tools in other design software? I hate to go back to Photoshop and i know some of the readers may hate me for that, but we all should bear in mind that there is almost no professional workflow today that could produce nice work without going to some post production software which in many cases end up being Photoshop. Despite our personal feeling towards Adobe and their marketing strategies, let us be honest isn't it one of the greatest software pieces today? The problem isn't in Blender's UI and in fact Blenderfoundation did a pretty decent job with it. After discussion started on, I thought it would be really great to go out there and make some research on that matter and to look at other software that being used in 3d industry. And i was shocked and the problem is, and any good programmer knows it, that every piece of code should be refactored once in a while but the same goes for design. As the time goes by and with Blender fast release cycles( by the way applause to Blenderfoundation and to everyone involved thank for making it happen ) stuff just ended up being added on top of each other and coming back to, what i mentioned above, to our tool perception. Shouldn't our tools interact on mouse clicks the same way they do in Adobe Products, GIMP, Inkscape and in many other great open source software projects out there? And I will come to restrictions and that not everyone a designer or can grasp basic design ideas again( what I've already mentioned in the previous comment ). At some point users have asked for tools and a real toolbar as they used in other software, which i find myself very useful, but instead buttons with operations were added( and it should be interpreted as if i you throw stones in someones direction, I know that Blenderfoundation has a hands full with creating great software, which can be used by anyone absolutely for free ). They are not usable and i doubt anyone will use ever use it that way. That way we have stuff that is not useful and just taking space. If we remove unnecessary stuff maybe we will not need tabs in the toolbar anymore. And one of the ides already mentioned several times to use icons on the left toolbar and toolsettings on the right side( involves further research, I've just mentioned it because it is my personal preference ). Unfortunately non of the 3d software I've looked at not using it the right way.

      • I really think perhaps what blender needs to do is start of with a blank page, with a few UI design volunteers and start think about how they would design blender with little to no preconceived notions. Then slowly test those ideas with users of all experience, essentially it be starting UI wise from scratch but I think that the only solution. I don't think that will happen with the current Blender Foundation through.

    • Interesting idea but besides grease pencil nothing else applies to the 3D view mode so it is better in the tool bar.

      • Well, my general notion with this mock-up here was that the more strain you can relieve from the toolbar, the better the tab system for the toolbar can work.

        If you did something like make the History part of the main Tools tab as its own tab, it'd immediately shorten the main Tools tab, and thus eliminating scrolling within that tab completely. The reduced tab space would optimize the tab system.

        Also, if you use addons that occupy the Toolbar (I use Sculpt Tools and Real-Time Animation, which both persist on the Toolbar), even when collapsed on the current Toolbar, these addons hog up space that probably would be better elsewhere.

        Personally, I don't really need the addons like Sculpt Tools and Real-Time Animation to be on the Toolbar just to use them. They're only on the Toolbar because there's currently no other place to put them, but they could be placed elsewhere and they'd still be just as useful.

        Putting them somewhere like the Header bar might work. It's not only relieves the Toolbar, but it makes it easier to access and easy to put away when I don't need it. Though, the Header bar is just one suggestion.

        The mock-up image above is just a general idea, where my main point is that perhaps we should consider using that wasted space in the top Header bar somehow. It seems to me that we could relieve some problems elsewhere if developers would consider using some of the space up top.

        Though, I'm aware that this isn't a one-for-all solution. But until and unless we do a ground-up redesign (or perhaps just a re-optimization) of Blender someday, all we can do is try stuff that best utilizes available space while still leaving Blender familiar. It doesn't have to be my simulated solutions here, but I hope this suggestion would at least get some thoughts flowing.

        • This is a valid point - Other programs switch into sculpt mode or model mode based on what you want to do and swap out the menus as well.

          In Blender the sculpt mode is more or less a mode of the 3D view port. I guess in this case you see the downside of a main menu bar which can hold/store all menu entries.

          In it's current form I hardly ever use the header menu just maybe when I need to import or link something I go to there.

          • Yeah, the Header bar might just become our best friend in the future. It's probably the least-frequented UI element with most users, with most projects, but has more free space available than almost anywhere else with the UI.

            Because of that, I think even if we don't use the Header bar to help relieve the side toolbar, it still might be useful to utilize it for other similar problems of space elsewhere.

            Though, it'd take some careful consideration and some trial-and-error, I'm sure. These mock-ups are typically easier to propose in theory than to implement in practice.

            Thanks for your feedback.

          • hmm I had that idea few times - dumping everything into the header and making it the main menu. But that would collide with Blender's nature of being a framework of apps and each app in its view port has it's own menu. If I have the UV editor lower right corner I am happy to access the menu down there instead of going to the main menu in the header which prevents a lot of mouse moving.

            A pie menu could be cool if you have the menu in the header but via the pie option you access the menu right where your mouse courser is like in Maya.

    • Nathan van Hulst on

      Always good to talk about things like this. I don't know about that Header Bar, but the good thing about it now... it's really clean. So when putting more options there, we make it a bit more crowded there :P

      I think we should there is a huge amount of discussion to be done about the interface. I think that is something that has always been the weakest.. UI, easy to reach, muscle memory. How decent hotkeys in editmode are, so cumbersome is the graphical interface. But I must admit, since 2.24.... the job has been done very well, and hats off to those who worked on it. I love opensource because of this, open, always room for input and such =)

      Btw, if I want to participate in this kind of ideas, where could I start helping out?

      • Just a heads up, the podcast mentions where you can apply to help if you are able to. I cannot go through the two hours again to find it now, as it is past midnight where I am, but Mr Jonathan Williamson actually does give addresses and his twitter account details for those interested.

        Personally, I am eager to see what becomes of this, as I have used the development branch and it works well as it is. I have found it speeds up finding things for me immensely. But that is just me.

        I wish not to forget and as the podcast clearly states, these decisions have not been made lightly and a lot of back forth is to be expected, it is still very much a W.I.P. Respect to anyone brave enough to go into any programs UI branch and try to make everyone happy, let alone blender's. In the end If we are not able to give of our time and talents to add to this project then we should wait until those who are spending countless hours on this have got done what they need to get done first, try it out for ourselves for real, then after a few days or weeks if we still find this needing improvements then we can give more constructive suggestions on how it can be improved upon. Until then we should respect that the devs have the program's and artist's best interests at heart when they develop these additions.

        Nathan You have my respect! :)

      • If the time should come when there would be crowding of options in this "Header toolbar" (if you will), then I would suggest we use the double-arrow indicator to access more off-screen option, or simply take advantage of the Header bar being draggable--draggable in two directions, I might add.

        In the mock-up, there is a vertical bar next to the double arrows at the end of the Header toolbar, where you could drag it over to make the "Header toolbar" expand more to the right horizontally.

        We could also see usage of the Header bar being dragged downwards to give the "Header toolbar" more room to expand vertically.

        We wouldn't have to worry about any issue of it looking crowded, since, besides the "Header toolbar" being resizing:

        a) We're only using the more miscellaneous toolbar options on this "Header Toolbar," which aren't that many in themselves--they're just plenty enough to cause the side Toolbar an issue. (Just looking at my own toolbar, I have about four of such miscellaneous toolbar Addons, hogging precious toolbar space.)

        b) The most of such miscellaneous toolbar options come through Addons (such as Sculpt Tools, Real-Time Animation, Katie Tools, etc.), which are themselves toggleable via Addons in the User Preferences.

        c) We can size up the header as much as we need, and should it be a bit larger than usual, we could jut toggle the entire "Header Toolbar" section along the Header bar, so that the Header returns to normal, with the press of a hotkey (my suggested hotkey is the / key, since the "slash" represents the sharing of the Header space).

        On another note, this suggestion wouldn't be any sort of one-for-all solution, but rather just a way to help relieve the side Toolbar. My logic here is that the more we can relieve the side Toolbar, the more effectively the tab system in development can work. Check out my reply to Claas above for a bit more explanation of just how.

        Though, this is just a general idea, to get some creative juice flowing. Maybe this exactly simulation wouldn't be what's used, but hopefully, developers will see the value in better using the largely-wasted space in the Header bar.

  6. Uh. I have a slow internet connection because it is a bit backards here so I can't really listen to such a long long long podcast without a big patience. Wish there as a text version.

    As for tabs, it would be a great feature. They are great organizing tool and quite easy to use. Bbut tabs, for me, often is not pleasant to the eye. They stick out and
    attract too much attention. I gladly welcome them for their usefulness, but they do lack in visual appeal.

  7. Rather than tabs, I feel better using drop down list as in layout selector or scene selector..... and I feel longing for floating panel as in 2.4x ............... just my opinion

  8. I am very happy to hear that they might consider sliding a view port into individual parts and not just have a 1 view 4 view mode so you can prevent the duplication of tool and property menus and taps.

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