I have a problem with a column in a table in which the cells may receive data in multiple ways:

  1. You may write a number, say 1.0. If you write you can only write numbers.
  2. Place an object in the cell, say abc either by:

    • dragging and dropping object from a list and drop it on cell.
    • selecting it from a drop down.

    The objects can not be numbers. They have names to uniquely identify them.

I have tried to illustrate some possible choices with some crappy drawings below:

  1. A separate column A contains drop down box with choices:

    • enter constant
    • drop object
    • select from list

    A choice in this drop down will affect how you interact with the cells in column B.

  2. Similar to above except we combine the drop down and edit field into one cell. So we don't have two columns. This avoids problems with the two related columns being separated because user rearranges the columns e.g.

Are there any standards for this, or any well known applications which do something similar anywhere?

Some context

Think of this as a sort of 3D modeling application. You are specifying some upper and lower boundary in a 3D world. These upper and lower boundaries can be given as a Z value (a number) or by a geometric shape. If you specify a geometric shape you have to do that by name in a list or drag and drop.


download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

Basically I want something that works as below, but which will fit nicely into a table. What the mockup shows is that there are 3 mutually exclusive ways to specify a distance. Distance can be between two completely flat surfaces, in which case it is enough to specify a Z value. Then the distance is the same regardless of X, Y coordinate. Or you can specify a surface of any shape, in which case the distance between the surfaces will vary depending on X, Y.


download bmml source

  • Not wanting to dismiss your beautiful mockups, but there is a feature on this site where you can incorporate Balsamiq mockups in your question (the little wireframe icon on the Edit screen toolbar) and that means others can download them to make suggestions based on your actual designs.
    – JonW
    Commented Apr 3, 2012 at 11:25
  • So the value is the Z distance and the other option is the name of an object - in the case the two different options do not describe the parameter (and are not assigned to the same field), so why would you want to put them in the same table column? - If you are simply trying to save screen real-estate then using a table is not the best why to do it (from a UX point of view). Commented Apr 3, 2012 at 11:29
  • Z distance and object name are mutually exclusive. And they are both used to create an upper and lower constraint. Either I can have a range defined as Z values (20, 30) or I can define it by two objects (A, B). Commented Apr 3, 2012 at 14:13
  • @AdamSmith One is the range and the other is a target to which you measure the range, not the range itself. Start your comment with @<UserName> if you want user to get a notification that you have replied to them. Commented Apr 3, 2012 at 14:14
  • @DannyVarod I am actually not sure about the exact details but a Z, essentially defines a plane. So for two parallel planes the range between them at any point X, Y is the same. While the objects might have any shape, so the range will vary with the X, Y coordinate. Commented Apr 3, 2012 at 14:33

1 Answer 1


If you insist on using a table control, I suggest you use two different columns and disable one cell when the other cell is set.

You will need the option to clear the cell to enable the other cell (by clicking on "X" icon or by manually deleting content).

Alternatively you could have an additional pseudo column for selecting the type, according to which the other two cells in the row are either enabled or disabled.

  • I don't insist, I just don't know what the alternative would be. I can't disable an entire column, because whether you use use a number or object will vary from row to row. Secondly how do you change your mind and use the other column if it has been disabled? Commented Apr 3, 2012 at 15:03
  • I meant disable the other cell, will correct answer. I will offer alternatives. Commented Apr 3, 2012 at 15:54
  • This is good design, Danny. It's better not to mix different data types in the same column. Commented Apr 22, 2012 at 6:14

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