I'm working on a web frontend for an existing API. We currently have a table that looks like this:

A data table preceded by two buttons: Item actions and Create new item

You can perform various one-time actions on items. At the moment, every action you can take on an item requires you to select the item, then go to "Item actions" and click on the action you want to take. This is because of technical constraints that don't allow us to perform actions in bulk.

We want to add a new action. This action can either be applied to a single item (like the other actions) or the entire list of items, but not to an arbitrary subset of items.

What's a good way I can communicate this to the user?

Edit: The reason I didn't immediately go for checkboxes is that the bulk action can only be applied to the entire list, not to a subset of it. Selecting 2 items out of 4 doesn't make sense, and allowing the user to do so would be a waste of their time. I've edited the question to make this clearer.

2 Answers 2


Edit: now that it's clear that there is an action that applies to the entire list, my example below still holds, except that you can remove the checkboxes. For example the application that I work on has lots of these tables and actions for single items, with one single export button for the entire list. This works very well for our users.

Use checkboxes for the bulk actions. Put those actions in a menu or just place multiple buttons. For each row in the table you can add a cell for buttons or a menu as in my example below.

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  • designed lots like this. We also had select all checkbox at top of col. And a filter for certain types of listing item
    – colmcq
    Apr 11, 2018 at 15:20
  • 1
    It’s indeed a quite common pattern. Sort, filter, condition based selections etc. I didn’t mention them as that goes beyond the question.
    – jazZRo
    Apr 11, 2018 at 15:32
  • This doesn't answer the question. "This action can either be applied to a single item or the entire list of items, but not to an arbitrary subset of items." Apr 16, 2018 at 19:26
  • @Christian, thanks for noticing. I answered this before the question got edited, but edited my answer now as well.
    – jazZRo
    Apr 17, 2018 at 7:25

There are a few adjustments that belong to standard UX patterns that can help inform the user that bulk actions are an option.

  1. Change from radios to check boxes. This will signify that multiple items may be selected.
  2. Add a "Select all" check box in your heading row to allow the user to check all the rows in the table
  3. From the "Item Actions" dropdown menu, disable all the actions that may only be used on a single line and highlight the new action that can be taken on the whole list. If the action can only be used for the whole table at once, change your label in the dropdown to read explicitly what that action will do, ex: "approve all entries"

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