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I have a grid that has a bunch of data. Some of the fields are editable and cause a postback updating the data. What are the best ways to show that to the user? i.e. Is there a best practice for how to make a distinction between editable and non-editable from a UI perspective?

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up vote 10 down vote accepted

I usually keep my editable fields white and non-editable fields grey (or monochromatic colors if not white fields, light-color: editable and dark-color: non-editable).

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I chose to go this route, though Charles' idea is also a good one. –  Dan Feb 10 '11 at 21:34
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Somewhat off topic but unless it is meant for simple data entry, providing editable grids might actually be an anti-pattern. See http://skizz.biz/blog/2007/02/23/the-editable-grid-antipattern/

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Typically I have a grey background and white editable field. When the field is not editable I set it's background to the same grey (which technically is the same as transparent,, but the user doesn't care about that.. They just see that it is the same).

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This may reveal a personal bias but I also tend to prefer some kind of "focus visual" that indicates to a user which field they are on. A soft background or border are ways to accomplish this.

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You are more talking about indicating current focus, whereas the question is about showing which fields are editable on the whole form. –  jameswanless Feb 10 '11 at 19:05
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Yeah, there is a best practice - make editable fields look like text boxes and non-editable fields look like text. There's a reason that those two UI elements have distinct looks.

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I like that idea (for text boxes) but how does that work for a grid. Does this mean that your grid must use a border for those cells that are editable? I'm thinking of grids where there borders are off and rows are indicated using an alternate row color. –  Richard DesLonde Mar 20 '11 at 7:11
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