Is it just me or are IE 7′s tabs too loud?

Note: This post might be a little dated. It was published in November 2006.

Look at IE 7’s tabs. They use more pixel space than Firefox, they are bright blue and they have Aqua-style 3D beveling. They are basically shouting off the rooftops “Hey, look at me, here I am, great new tabbed browsing!”

Is this really a good thing?

Alan Cooper refers to this kind of everyday “screen dominating” application as having a “sovereign posture“. He says sovereign applications should have subtle controls that fade into the background.

“The implications of sovereign behavior are subtle, but quite obvious once you think about them. The most important implication is that the users of sovereign programs are experienced users. … seen from the perspective of the entire relationship, the time the user spends getting acquainted with it is small. From the designer’s point of view, this means that the program should be designed for optimal use by experienced users and not for first time users.”

What the IE 7 designers have done is used design principles that are more applicable for “Transient posture” programs. To quote Alan again:

“A transient posture program comes and goes… The program is called when needed… The salient characteristic of transient programs is their temporary nature. Because they don’t stay on the screen for extended periods of time, the user doesn’t get the chance to get intimately familiar with them. Consequently, the program’s user interface needs to be unsubtle, presenting its controls clearly and boldly. The interface must spell out what it does…”

This is interesting stuff. So is the design of the IE7 tab area bad? Or is it an effective way of showing newcomers that these tabs exist? But then does it become too ‘in your face’ for users as they become experienced? Could some clever design satisfy both kinds of users?