I'm working with complex tables whose data can be aggregated based on time (e.g., from month to quarter). Users will still be able to modify the data at a higher level (e.g., input 900 at the quarter level and then split 300 to each month).

The goal Is to allow users to select the way input data will be distributed. Selecting with the mouse is quite easy to implement: when a cell is in focus and supports distribution, an additional element with the selected distribution type appears. Users can then click on it and select from a dropdown.

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It's more challenging to handle keyboard shortcuts for it:

  1. Everything with Shift or Cmd + arrows is reserved for text selection. However, I can probably use Shift + Arrow Up/Down to change the current mode (without opening a dropdown). Because the same selection could be achieved with Shift + Cmd + Arrow Up/Down since cells only have one line.
  2. Tab can't be used because it's reserved for cell navigation. I can invent a separate shortcut, for example, Ctrl + Cmd + I, just for opening a dropdown, and then the user can navigate with arrows.
  3. As an alternative, I can begin such cell input with the dropdown always open, so then it'll be clear that the mode can be selected with the up and down arrows.

I would appreciate any suggestions regarding the direction here or examples of products with similar interactions. Thank you!

  • I haven't seen products with similar interactions but I think you might need to consider not just this specific use case but across the product as a whole to work out the best option.
    – Michael Lai
    Sep 15, 2023 at 0:47

2 Answers 2


For this kind of complex table where formulas need to be applied, the sidebar can be a good enhancement. For scalability of the UI, like if you have more options for the table cell in the future, you may try introducing the sidebar (Image 1) or, even a horizontal bar on top of the table (Image 2).

With sidebar

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With the top horizontal option bar

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More ways to be considered

  • Opens a popup when users right-click a cell to apply the formula
  • Giving an edit and read-only toggle option in the table

I think you would have to work out if this is a common enough operation to dedicate a very specific control for this type of input interaction.

It is not uncommon for applications with complex operations to allow users to assign a short cut for the operations. This can be in the form of a programmable 'hot key' in a specific context, or a persistent short cut key that then can't be used for anything else (which is something you already mentioned before).

Also, you have to consider if you will introduce more complex features in the future in which you might have to add additional options or different combinations of options that will make it impossible to extend or adopt the design pattern.

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