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The problem

In a desktop application, our users browse a lot of tables. Some cells contain links. Link texts look the same as other cells', except from when hovering, when they turn blue and underlined.

Here is a table with record rows representing persons. Opening a record shows all details of a person. But I could also choose to instead open the person's company directly from the person list by clicking the link in the company column:

list

We are combining these three behaviours:

  1. Double click anywhere on a row to open the record in a new window.
  2. Click anywhere except on a link, to select the row. (the "Maria" row in the image)
  3. Click on a link to follow the link. (Clicking on "1 2 3 ..." opens that company). Most columns do not contain links, though.

The problem is that users happen to unintentionally click these links.

The question

How do I modify the link click action so that the unintentional link clicking is avoided, while both keeping the convention of action 1 and 2 above, and keeping the easy access to the link?

What I have tried so far

I thought about minimizing the target area by using a button instead of linking the text, that only shows on hover. But I cannot find a great place to position it at:

buttons

I also thought about requiring an extra step, but popping up a menu on clicking a link just feels wrong.

enter image description here

I got more ideas on how to avoid it, but what I really need is a good reasoning which to choose, and why. Preferably as conventional as possible.

share|improve this question
    
Can more than one row be selected at once? What can a user do with those selected rows? I ask because I wonder if you could change the way rows are selected and therefore mitigate the issue with links. –  Matt Obee Mar 26 '13 at 14:21
    
Yes, multiple rows can be selected. Selected rows are acted upon from a toolbar, or by right-click on the row. I do not think I could change the selection click or the double-click, as they are very central. It is probably the link click that has to be modified. –  JOG Mar 26 '13 at 14:22

2 Answers 2

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Forgive me if I'm wrong, but it sounds like your links are invisible until the user hovers over them.

If you make the links persistently visible (e.g., as blue text with underline), users will be better able to anticipate the alternative function and click elsewhere in the row to select it. Even better; change the cursor to the hand cursor only on hover of the link.

If you do choose to revert to some smaller hit target for the link, I'm still wary that you're saying "that only shows on hover"—you're effectively creating a secret target that the user could accidentally click on and get the unexpected behaviour of opening the link instead of selecting the row. It would be significantly preferable to have the links remain visible regardless of the position of the mouse.

share|improve this answer
    
You are right, that is the main problem. Making all of them blue and underlined all the time would not look great, though. I will try giving them a constant blue-scale colour and then on hover adding underline and hand cursor. –  JOG Mar 27 '13 at 8:59
1  
I just wanted to add that the change to make all links blue was well received. Added the underline and hand cursor on hover only, and then the looks only came down to picking the right shade of blue. –  JOG Oct 16 at 22:01

I would consider introducing a separate control to select rows, such as checkboxes as shown below. This would allow you to include links in the table without accidentally triggering them or having to resort to less intuitive methods like icons or extra steps.

mockup

download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

share|improve this answer
    
Thanks, great way to modify the selection behaviour. But if I could I would really like to just modify the link action. Gmail has the selection box you suggest, but it is a webpage where each entire row is a link. My scenario is a desktop application, and clicking a row here conventionally selects it, like an email in Outlook or a file in the Explorer. –  JOG Mar 26 '13 at 15:14
    
@JOG If clicking a row selects it, you should remain consistent and have double clicking it open whatever content it represents. You can have a link in there in the way you would if a link were in an email. Otherwise, I think Matt's suggestion is the cleanest option. –  JohnGB Mar 26 '13 at 16:55
    
Yes, that consistency is there, and that is what I would like to keep by modifying how the link is clicked and not the rest. The link and the row represents different content. I'll clarify that in the question. I understand your change suggestion to be removing the link functionality from the list? –  JOG Mar 26 '13 at 17:11

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