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I have considered using a side by side panel design. A list of rules on the left, and a tree navigation on the right - however the tree structure could get very nested. I am concerned how a user would select multiple folders in the tree and then be able to apply the rule to all of those items / folders. Traditionally, in a tree you would click to select, but when you can pick and choose do you add a check box next to each item / folder? This feels like to could get pretty messy.

Any thoughts or suggestions on this one?

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Does the tree feature expanding/closing of branches, or is it a mere visual structure representation? –  kontur Dec 10 '12 at 8:18

3 Answers 3

It seems to me that the most equivalent behaviour for you is an email inbox or music jukebox app, where you use checkboxes or another similar selection mechanism to highlight the items you wish to affect, then use action buttons at the top or bottom of the list (or tree in this case) to perform a given action on the selected items.

While modal interfaces like this aren't really considered ideal for small selection sizes, they are appropriate when performing batch operations on a larger set of items.

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I would do it without checkboxes simply having a click on the item itself toggle it's selection state. And have a strong indication of selection like inverting the colors or a box outline.

This method assumes there's a expand/contract buttons (as in a file/directory browser) to manage the tree.

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I like this option, but there are two possible concerns: there's no affordance to suggest being selectable, and it's not always clear how to select multiple items. If you behave like both Mac OS X and Windows does by default (where clicking on another item changes the selection to the new item), you're depending on people Command- or Control-clicking, which is far from obvious. If you automatically extend the current selection as you select others, it's very easy to select an item, scroll down and select another one, not realising the first one is still selected. –  Kit Grose Dec 10 '12 at 23:21
    
So far what i know the tree could get pretty dense - so i like and agree having a summary is important. A user could choose to apply a rule to the entire folder, or they could choose to apply different rules to different nodes within the folder. –  user22157 Dec 12 '12 at 23:02

To reduce visual clutter, you could only show the checkboxes on hover and when they are checked. Unchecked rows would show nothing, when you hover they show an unchecked checkbox, and when you click they get a checked box that shows even when you stop hovering.

Depending on how large your tree is you may want to provide a summary line somewhere (e.g.: "14 items selected").

Does it make sense to select an entire folder at once? If so, give the folders tri-state checkboxes, which show an intermediate state (e.g.: shaded but not checked) if any of the items they contain are checked. This lets users find items hidden within potentially collapsed folders.

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