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I have a drop down box where the first item is blank indicating they haven't selected anything yet and then it's filled with other choices. There is also an insert button beside the drop down.

The blank item isn't a valid choice to insert so I was going to hide the insert button until a valid choice is selected. To me this seems like a cleaner approach because the user has less to think about. They can only interact with items that are visible to them.

So is this the right think to do, or should the insert button always be visible? And then I would just have a notification indicating they can't insert the item.

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Another option is to question why you have a default item (blank) that is invalid (which is is the cause of the show/hide insert button dilemma). – uxzapper Aug 8 '13 at 1:56
up vote 1 down vote accepted

I think you have 2 primary options here:

  • Show the button always, but have it disabled until the user can click it.
  • Hide the button until the user takes an action that makes the button usable.

In the end, I think you have to test with your users to determine which is the best option.

If you're working with tech-savvy folks, a disabled button isn't likely to confuse them, but if you're working with users that have little experience using websites/apps, then the disabled button might confuse them and they won't understand how to make it clickable.

If your "blank" option is something like "Select an X to insert" that might clarify why the button is disabled, but again, non-tech users might still find this confusing.

TL;DR: test it and see.

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I think I'm going to go with the disabled approach and do some testing. Thanks. – Chris Kdon Aug 7 '13 at 18:26
There is always the third option of having it enabled always and have client-side (!) validation bring up a message that you would like some more info. Hiding is bad, disabling only slightly better without an indication of why something is disabled. – Marjan Venema Aug 8 '13 at 6:48

What about greying out the controls that aren't available yet? It makes easier for users to understand the process and prevent the UI to move around, which is really unpleasant and distracting.

If you find out that there is too much content to reveal, then maybe look at breaking down the process into steps, section or pages.

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