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I'm working on a desktop application - a photovoltaic planner - where you can layout your solar panels on a roof very similar to graphic programs like InDesign or Illustrator. Actually, its quite close to graphic as users have some aesthetic goals in mind too, besides just putting as many panels on roof as possible.

Users aren't homogeneous and span from computer beginner (craftsman) up to tech-savvy (engineer), thus a need for an easy usage.

For placing and manipulating panels and others objects like chimneys, skylights and such, the user can drag and drop them as well as type precise units in input fields.

Where I am stumbling and am not sure how to go further, is how group aka multi-object selection shall be treated? I found two patterns, which I call Group and Item Approach. See pic for its behaviour.

enter image description here Some background infos:

  • Objects dimensions won't change too much as solar panels have fixed size, even skylights dimensions won't change very often.
  • But if so, its very likely to enter sizes by input fields as its more precise than resizing by mouse.
  • Relations of objects do matter.
  • Dimensions of a single object does matter either.
  • So far, our application always shows what action is possible, if not at the moment, its just disabled, but still visible. (This one is going to be disrupted by Radius on Item Approach).
  • Illustrator/Indesign CS5 take Group Approach and MS Blend take Item Approach on context menus and Group Approach by mouse resizing (which I found out surprisingly).

And here arrises my question, what behaviour for group aka multi-object selection is common and easiest to understand?

Are there some Best Practises? What would you recommend?

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I think that it depends on the possible objects and their parameters.

In your example in the first case I find the Group Approach intuitive, because I can infer on the possible changing options by the displayed parameters. The Item Approach in this case is irritating, because I can't assign the parameters mentally to the objects (Which parameters are for the circle and which for the rectangle? And what happens if I change the width? The width of circle and rectangle is scaled?).

I have found a other good solution for the Item Approach in the mac osx app "Voila"

Voila

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Thats true, the circle and box properties mixture are irritating in the Item Approach. And I have still no idea how one could solve it. How about your example? For me it not clear what happens there. Can you describe it a little please? I assume properties on right are for all marked objects. But how does it handle i.e. the color black and red? Are the stroke patterns related to ellipse and arrow? So, its additional? –  FrankL Nov 25 '11 at 12:42
    
Maybe you can mix both variants in the first case in your example. Use for the sizing properties the width and the height (Group Approach). For other properties (e.g. line color) you can use the Item Approach. –  sysscore Nov 25 '11 at 13:15
    
Best, break down all conditions and decide for the most intuitive solution. My example show the Item Approach. It's show properties of the ellipse, text and arrow. But text properties are in a separate dialog. So you can edit directly only the properties of the ellipse and arrow. The stroke colour is set by a standard colour (funny) but other properties show the current settings. –  sysscore Nov 25 '11 at 13:27
    
Thanks for your answer @sysscore .I think I have to make a small test on this topic, because after rethinking it with your input, still every aproach has its beauties and I assume there are several common patterns. Im going to make a test of both plus a mixture and let the user decide. Cheers –  FrankL Nov 28 '11 at 9:28
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