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I'm creating an OS X app and during it's setup (the very first launch) I need user to select a few entries from a list (a one-columned table). Usually on OS X user is able to select a single line from the table and multiple lines when holding Command key.

I'd like to make multiple selection available without any additional effort of getting to command key. Yet I'm hesitant to do so because of possible users' habit for multiple selection from other applications.

What would be the way to denote possibility of multiple selection without command key? Should I add a piece of text saying so or maybe I just should leave the current interaction behavior as it is on most (all?) OS X apps?

The Apple HIG says nothing about item selection in list views (table/outline views).

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3 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Selecting multiple items with command is a widely known pattern. I think that the best way would be to simply leave the default behavior as it is.

Another well known pattern for multi-selection is checkbox: use a checkbox in front of every line, so you can clarify that users are able to select multiple items. Depends on the length (and purpose) of the list, but additional features can come in here. One of these is:

Separate two states: selected (1) and checked (2):

  1. selected state: when user clicks on the row, but this does not indicate the checked state, it just gives another options like: check selected, check all but selected, check none etc.
  2. checked state: clicking on the checkbox or using secondary navigation mentioned in (1) indicates this state.

In this case, you have to leave the default cmd+selection for multiple selection as it is, but checking elements works separately from selection.

For short lists:

If you have just a short list (you don't have to scroll to see all list items), you can just highlight selected rows clearly. Maybe textual indication is a good idea: "select features by clicking on a row".

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I would argue that you can't expect all your users to know multiple command selection, and that it's supported. I find myself jabbing at every other modifier before getting to command every time I want to do multiple selection, and having to hold down a modifier to select things on the first launch sounds messy. Ideally, you'd figure out a way to avoid the need for multiple selection, but failing that, I'd probably suggest going with checkboxes for items to select, or perhaps, if you're feeling adventurous and you don't mind adding nonstandard elements, representing them some way other than a list, like in boxes with icons (if that's possible) and then having the user press them down to add them.

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I love the uTorrent selection method, basically a list of checkboxes with the most usual options checked by default and two buttons 'check all' and 'check none'. I usually want all, one or all but one, so this suits me really well.

But anyway, 'multiple selection' screems for checkboxes.

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