So I am faced with an issue where I am saddled with an existing navigation that has nodes that are expandable/collapsable to reveal child nodes. No problem, however the issue is that some are selectable (can be navigated to) while others are not. In a perfect world all parent nodes would either be selectable (because they can be navigated to ie. outlook) or no parent is selectable and only the end branch is.

Outlook Example Unfortuanatly due to architecture (and user customization of nav) I cannot resolve this issue from the code side, so the question is, do I provide some visual indicator that a parent can be navigated to? So that a user knows before they click on it whether it will only expand, or if it will cause the content are to update. Or am I over-thinking the issue and it is fine that clicking on option A will expand AND cause it to be selected and the content area updated, where option B and C will only expand to reveal children.

The interface is similar to outlooks above layout, as in it has expand control, which when clicked only expands the parent. In our case we use [+] [-]. The difference is when the label is clicked, it does one of the two above described actions (where as outlook only selects the node and does not expand)

Look forward to your ideas...

1 Answer 1


You are not overthinking it. Clicking on one item that causes an update and then another that doesn't is interpreted by a user as a malfunction. Inconsistent behavior is the worst.

You can definitely signal which item are selectable with some icon or maybe by making the non selectable ones a bit lighter in color (like 60% alpha). Just some idea, but my point is you have to have some differentiation.

  • Glad I am not over thinking it, however I am stuck to determine what that visual indicator is. Your suggestions are something I have thought about, but I dont think there is any appropriate icon that users will not have to learn what it means, and my worry on the 60% alpha is that it will make the item appear disabled. A color change is another logical item, but as with the icon, it will have to be learned that blue ones can be navigated to, and black ones can't and just expand. Thanks for the thoughts. Nov 10, 2011 at 23:01
  • you already have that little triangle on the left of container items that indicates you can expand this item. why not use the same indicator on the right of the item to indicate that its navigable? need to see how it looks but it might just work... Nov 11, 2011 at 11:22
  • Good suggestion, however just to note, that screenshot is not my interface, it is Outlook's. It is an example of the type of interface in our app. Best option to giving an example of what I am talking about without showing "sensitive" designs. Nov 11, 2011 at 18:56
  • yea, but you get the point. Something similar - doesn't have to be the exact same icon used to indicate collapse/expand - just the fact that it's to the right could clue users in. Nov 11, 2011 at 20:04

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