I met with situation when I have to use the long multiply check list. I have to add some usable buttons Select All, Clear All or Revert Invert. I know that the common practice is using "Select All" and "Clear All" buttons. But in many cases user can select only 5 items and press "Invert" to inverse their selection.

My question is: should I follow to "unwritten rule" and use "Select All" or can I add "Invert" as "strange or unknown" action to select/unselect items in a list if it is really useful? Has somebody ever used this way in practice?

select all


Example: I want to send a message to all contact users except someone.

  • 1
    What would Revert do? In your case, would it deselect c and select a, b and d? That's what I would expect. Maybe others would expect that the whole selection would be reverted to its original state. It's a bit ambiguous in how you could understand it, I think. Commented Sep 8, 2010 at 14:35
  • @Anne Schuessler all selected will be unselected and selected will be unselected - it works so
    – igor
    Commented Sep 8, 2010 at 14:38

6 Answers 6


If you must use an Invert button, I suggest that you label it Flip instead to avoid confusion with Revert.

OTOH, for Clear All and Select All, personally I'd for as few buttons as possible:

  • If all answers are checked, label the button Clear All

  • If no answers are checked, label it Select All

  • If only some are checked, label it Select All. If the user clicks on it, then the button goes back to being labeled Clear All.

If the user's intention was to clear all in the first place, then it takes an extra mouse click, but the cognitive load was lightened for everybody.

  • 9
    This methodology usually works well but I don't agree with your third point. No one would logically think that they would have to first select all in order to clear what they had already selected. Commented Sep 8, 2010 at 18:51
  • +1 for Flip. You are right, I want to avoid too many buttons at the same time. And I like the direction what you described.
    – igor
    Commented Sep 8, 2010 at 19:18

I don't see why this has to be an either/or proposition. Select All/Clear All are the normal options, but if you think that Invert is a case that would come up enough, why not have all three buttons?

  • 2
    'cause that would be way too many buttons IMO.
    – Hisham
    Commented Sep 8, 2010 at 17:36
  • 1
    I'd agree with this if there was room and a large number of options.
    – ChrisF
    Commented Sep 8, 2010 at 18:13
  • 2
    three buttons doesn't seem that many imo - it depends on how many items you are expecting in your list. If its only 5/6, then it's too many buttons. If its 50+, then is three buttons really too much?
    – Sk93
    Commented Sep 10, 2010 at 14:38

In English, "Revert" means "return to the previous state" it does not mean the mathematical concept of "complement". "Invert" is closer, but I would avoid this entirely as unnecessarily complex and confusing.

Especially with so few choices it is simple and obvious for a user to select or clear all then clear or select the one or two they want different. "KISS"


I believe that you're actually thinking of "Invert" as the button behavior for the "Revert" button. This is a very unusual behavior and I would not recommend it, as it will most likely confuse the user. Personally, I don't see anything wrong with a 'Select All/Clear All' behavior being available to the user, if you feel that is an action they are likely to use. These buttons are meant to be a convenience to the user to make actions easier to accomplish.

Ultimately, I would stick with the 'Select All/Clear All' options.


Why can’t you just have all three buttons?


Hmmm, this is very interesting. I have to say if I encountered an "Invert" button I wouldn't know what to expect. I believe Photoshop has an option something along the lines of "Select Inverse," which might be a bit clearer.

That said, if you believe the most common use case is that your users typically want to include everything in that list but an option or two, have you considered just changing the choice? You could have them select only the options they don't wish to include.

Another way to explore making the selection process easier for your users would be to see if there's any value to remembering their selections for repeat visits. That way, if the user had to do a look of checking or unchecking, at least they'd only have to do it once. (Of course, very dependent on the situation.)

  • +1 1) it can be tested by user by clicking twice or more ;). 2) it can be resolved by using two check box lists (included items, and the second one: excluded items) 3) saving selection(s) or templates is an excellent option. it is a valuable suggestion. thank you.
    – igor
    Commented Sep 14, 2010 at 22:00
  • 1
    Good thoughts. Another option (a variation of your second) is to have all the boxes checked by default so the user can uncheck the ones they don't want. Commented Sep 15, 2010 at 14:13

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