Supposing desktop application where multiple elements can be selected, and operations can be applied to them:

  • Text editor: several characters can be selected, and bold/italic/underline applied.
  • Drawing editor: Areas of different shapes can be selected, and drawing operations applied.
  • Vectorial drawing: Several elements can be selected, and operations (change properties, move, delete) applied.
  • 3D editor: several triangles can be selected, they can then be moved, deleted, etc..

There seems to be 2 paradigms:

  1. Select, then apply an operation to the current selection: you have as many tools as required to produce the complex selection. Then you apply the operation to all. Example:

    • Select a text in a text editor and then apply bold.
    • On a calculator, this would be the "Reverse Polish notation": "2", "4", "+"
  2. Toggle the operation, and then apply it to as many elements as required: Example:

    • Toggle Chamfer on a CAD software and click one by one each edge.
    • On a drawing editor, toggle a brush, and then apply to the drawing (where the selection are those pixels below the cursor)

A third paradigm would be some kind of "infix" of a calculator, but I believe this is not common among desktop software.

What is the name (if any) for those two paradigms?

1 Answer 1


The first paradigm you're describing sounds to me like a 'batch action' or 'batch operation' - applying the same action or operation to multiple items at once.

The second paradigm you describe sounded more like 'applying a tool' - the tool conveys certain properties to the items it touches.

A lot of products/systems allow these two ideas to be in play at the same time - I could select a number of shapes (batch) and apply the paint bucket (tool) to fill them with the same colour

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