Looking for a design pattern - actions on items represented in rows of a data grid

21 Nov 2008 - 3:38pm
5 years ago
1 reply
665 reads

I have what I think is a common problem but I don't like any of the
design patterns I've seen and I'm hoping someone can suggest a better

The interface object consists of a data table showing key facts about
a real-world entity. I want to let people do one of several things
with these entities.

Let's take the example of books. Say I'm representing books in a
collection. Then I might have a table with columns like "Title",
"Author", ISBN, etc.
Given a table of books the person might want to do a number of things,
such as deleting the record, marking them as having been read, noting
that they're on loan, etc.

The typical design I've seen for this is to have the data columns on
the left and one or more action columns on the right; typically each
action is represented by a checkbox.
The problem is that the checkboxes start to clutter things up and are
both visually ugly as well as confusing if the user has to manipulate
more than 10-20 rows. (*)

Another pattern is to put a single select box on the left and then
have the users choose an action when one or more boxes has been
selected - gmail uses this pattern. The problem here is that the
possible actions are hidden behind a dropdown. (Actually, on
examination, gmail cheats by putting up a few buttons for the presumed
common actions and hiding the rest on a dropdown. That's very
Windows-toolbar-ish but saves on space.)

Anyone got a better pattern I can look at?


(*) Yes, ideally they'd sort or filter their lists before trying to
work with them, but I can't count on the users doing that.


21 Nov 2008 - 4:18pm

If you allow users to multi-select thee objects to perform the same
actions on them, then you might consider exposing the options above
the table. That way even if the same actions are buried as a
contextual menu off of each item (for singleton actions), users still
have an idea of what options exist.

Rob Fay
User Experience Architect
Blackboard Inc.

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