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Apologies in advance for the rather verbose description, only I don't yet have the rep to post images.

I work on an application where you can browse images and add them to a personal 'folder'. When you go to 'your folder' page the images are listed across the page as thumbnails in little panels, each of which has a checkbox. The checkboxes allow you to select images, then you can perform actions on your selected images using buttons at the top of the page (e.g. download, edit, remove). The buttons are:

[Download] [More actions] | [Download all]

Where 'more actions' is a drop down button with less commonly used actions (edit, remove, link items etc). The first two buttons are greyed out until you have selected any images, at which point they become active. I've had feedback (though not from proper testing) that it is a bit annoying to have to select items before you can do (or see) any of the less commonly used options.This despite a convenient 'select all' link near the buttons.

Would a better solution be to select all items by default? And do away with the 'download all' button? Just looking for peoples opinions really and whether anyone has seen any similar UI's?

EDIT: I now have the rep to post images so here is a mockup of the current ui. When you select an image the panel it is in turns green.

mockup of current ui

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If you add the path to the image I'll edit the image in. Or you could upload your image to something like dropmocks.com. –  Rahul May 31 '11 at 9:35
    
Thanks for the offer, I've earnt the rep points so have added the image myself. –  benb May 31 '11 at 10:25
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4 Answers

up vote 1 down vote accepted

General observations

--Please don't select them all by default. As a user I will choose what I need - I don't want you telling me what I need.

--I partly agree with other feedback provided that the greyed out buttons are annoying. Download I can understand being greyed out until a selection is made, but I want to see what the More actions are. It might be info that helps me select items/affects what I select.

--Any reason why the Download buttons and More actions control come before the Select All / None control? My workflow on this is, in essence, from top to bottom, so as a user I'd rather see the controls placed in order of use. This would locate the Download buttons (but possibly not the More actions menu) after the items to select.

--Select all and Download all are not the same thing and I think you need both. For example, if I want 15 of 16 items I will click Select All and then manually deselect the one I don't want.

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File list from Handcraft

In our app you can manage uploaded images similarly to how you do things. As you can see, I chose to split the "download all" equivalent into two tasks: selecting everything, and then doing something with the current selection. You could consider trying that as it would remove the need for a "download all" button and make it more clear that certain actions would have no effect as they only apply to the current selection.

Gmail has a similar approach:

Gmail selection handling

Actions regarding selecting things are hidden beneath a dropdown. Buttons applying to the current selection are displayed prominently to the right. It used to say "with selected: " but they changed it when they cleaned up the UI a few years back. This approach is counterintuitive as you'd expect it to be harder to understand, but Gmail has a lot of testing done to it so clearly this works better than I'd expected.

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I like google mails approach, but I don't think it translates that well to a situation where you have the checkboxes across the page rather then in a neat vertical column. –  benb May 31 '11 at 10:33
    
If you look at my first example, it has a "show thumbnails" checkbox that we use to turn the interface into a grid like yours. Consider combining the two. –  Rahul May 31 '11 at 10:43
    
I like your solution except having a checkbox for the "Select All" function. It should be a button. –  Charles Boyung May 31 '11 at 17:48
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You don't need both [Download] and [Download all] if selecting images is preferable preparation to these actions.

Instead you should include further "selection options", like [Select all], [Select none] and [Advanced selection/filtering] (where you can select images on a certain date, month, year and images that are tagged with certain tags etc)

You really should let the user be able to see the items in the drop-down menu. Users like to explore the UI to learn more about its features.

  • An easy way out would be to disable the sub items (instead of the main button). That wouldn't give the users any hint on why they are disabled though.

  • To accommodate this, you could established an "at least one selected image"-rule to the system (i.e. it is always at least one selected image - the active image) and never disable any of the buttons.

  • Or you could turn the "no selected images"-state into a rare situation and give the users a proper message that tells them that the action can't be executed when there isn't any selected images. (Giving it a second thought, you don't even need to turn the "no selected images"-state into rare situation. You could always have the buttons enabled, and give the user a "no selected image" message whenever there is no selected image...)

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There are different ways to do selection:

  • implicit and easily undoable, e.g. click on a file name in windows explorer to select it; click anywhere else to un-select. Selection is highly visible (such as contrasting background color).
  • more explicit and more friction to undo, as in your example where you're using checkboxes to mark selected items. You have to actively uncheck that very item to remove the selection. The selection is also less visible (such as a small checkmark next to the selected object).

In your situation, I wouldn't select an item by default, since it will always arbitrary, is not quite visible and cannot be undone easily.

If those buttons were clickable from the beginning without a highly visible selection nearby, people would probably click them without realizing that they're doing it in the context of that automatically selected image.

That being said, if you're interested in a better discoverability of your functions, why not activate the "more actions" button and show them what is possible, but grey out those actions one by one, independently?

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Interesting points. I have made the selection/unselection fairly easy and obvious for the user (large hit area on the checkbox, panel turns green when selected). The previous UI suffered from the problem you described where the dropdown was active and would trigger an error message if you tried to perform on e of the actions without any items selected. –  benb May 31 '11 at 10:28
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