Disabled Irrelevant Things

Context:  Information or actions that are normally useful become temporarily irrelevant sometimes.  This is a common situation in almost all of the primary patterns that use visuals, such as Control Panel, Status Display, Form, and WYSIWYG Editor.

Problem:  How can the artifact steer the user away from actions that cannot or should not be taken, while still maintaining visual calm and stability?


Solution:  Disable the things which have become irrelevant.  Hide them entirely if the user shouldn't even be aware of them, or "gray them out" (with their main features barely visible) if the user should know they're there but that they just aren't useful right now.   If the thing is a manipulable control, don't allow the user to use it.

Resulting Context:  Computer interface toolkits normally provide a reasonable implementation of a disabled or grayed-out state.  If the item being disabled uses Pointer Shows Affordance, however, remember to disable that too, so that the user doesn't get conflicting cues about whether a given control is usable or not.

As the user uses the artifact, different actions may become available to them as they change the artifact's state over time.  This pattern provides one way to let the actions unfold to the user, without the disruption of having items appear out of nowhere.  Still, it doesn't really tell the user what to do -- it only tells them what they can't do.

Comments to:  jtidwell@alum.mit.edu
Last modified May 17, 1999

Copyright (c) 1999 by Jenifer Tidwell.  All rights reserved.