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My web application contains a list of elements, which can be sorted by drag'n'drop. How should this feature be visually represented to users?

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You may want to have a look at Interesting Moments Designing Web Interfaces Master Class with Bill Scott and Theresa Neil provided by O'Reilly. –  andy iosifescu Jul 22 '11 at 19:24
    
Similar: ux.stackexchange.com/q/34158/17023 –  unor Feb 7 '13 at 1:17

8 Answers 8

I saw a presentation by Sean Kane from Netflix a few years ago, in which he described how the DVD queue works. You should study it if you can (if you have an account or know someone who does).

A couple of points to note:

  • He said the default move cursor didn't test very well, so they switched to a grab cursor, as suggested by GoodEnough.

  • The drag-and-drop is a progressive enhancement. You can still sort by filling in text boxes in the list order column. Many users never notice the drag-and-drop feature is available.

  • There's no drag handle. You can start the drag with mousedown anywhere in the row (except where another object, such as a link, is in the foreground).

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Can you provide a link to that study? –  Majo0od Aug 21 at 18:00
    
It was a presentation I saw in person. I think it was at an Adobe conference. –  Patrick McElhaney Aug 21 at 20:12
    
Ah ok. I was just curious to read that report fully. –  Majo0od Aug 22 at 11:43

There is a standard icon of three horizontal lines one on top of the other that implies items can be dragged and dropped.

It implies "friction" or "handle" and is a bit similar to the diagonal lines in the bottom right corner of windows or text boxes that allows resizing them.

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Gmail uses the same paradigm (sort of), they have grippies on the message items that indicate they can be dragged. You may want to also have a non-draggable way of doing the same action for accessibility. –  Garo Yeriazarian Aug 11 '10 at 12:22
    
I don't think I'm familiar with this icon, is there a picture of it anywhere (or better yet, a downloadable version)? –  Aaronaught Jan 21 '11 at 17:52
    
I found this image that shows the gmail drag handles: askdavetaylor.com/5-blog-pics/google-gmail-priority-inbox-7.png –  Pau Giner Aug 1 '11 at 11:02

I've used a little "grippable" texture on stuff to show that it's draggable. Here's Gmail's texture:

enter image description here

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The move cursor is commonly used with dragable items in web apps.

css:

cursor:move;
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I suggest you use the little gripping hand (open when hovering, closed while dragging). Have some sort of gripping icon (a handle) that looks like something that can be grabbed (in Gmail it's a pair of dot columns (4 dots per column).

I would also suggest that you add a little animation showing the behavior to new users (or existing users if it's a new feature), just don't constantly show the animation every time a user is in your app.

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Dragging is a drag. After having recently finished revamping a couple of drag-and-drop UIs, I’ve actually come to the conclusion that next time I’ll change them to a sort of “click and drop”. Have a widget on each item that you click to select it for moving. Then you click where you want it to go. This seems to be going well in testing so far.

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That sounds like an interesting idea. In testing is it doing ok? Do people understand it without instructions or do you need to give hints to people on how to use it? –  matto1990 Aug 12 '10 at 8:51
    
As always, be very careful about making the UI behave in an unexpected way. My advice would be to allow dragging, but also implement the click-and-drop too. –  Rocketmagnet Aug 14 '10 at 22:50

When moving the cursor over draggable objects, it should be changed into a open hand. When an object is grabbed, it should be changed into a grabbing hand. While grabbing an object, the allowed drop zones could be emphasized from the other background (i.e. through shading, or coloring).

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I'm coming to this problem myself with a desktop application. The best solution I can come up with at the moment is to have an arrow on hover, which simply points to where the object can be dragged to, with some text saying drag and drop, or similar.

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