My web application contains a list of elements, which can be sorted by drag'n'drop. How should this feature be visually represented to users?


I've used a little "grippable" texture on stuff to show that it's draggable. Here's Gmail's texture:

enter image description here

| improve this answer | |
  • A couple things to note: (1) Changing the cursor isn't enough. Users need to see that a thing is grabbable before they'll reach for it. The grippy textures show that. (2) In the case of Gmail, the texture is way over on the left end of the messages, but you can grab a message anywhere, not just on the texture. – Ken Mohnkern Mar 20 '15 at 13:46
  • In the image, I find that the checkbox confuses me. Perhaps because it's so close to the grippable texture, isn't clear to me that the grippable texture is its own icon. It also looks like a small target area for your mouse to "hit". – Adam Zerner Mar 21 '17 at 6:31
  • @AdamZerner, I don't remember if, at the time, the grippy bit was the only grabbable target, or if it indicated that the entire row could be grabbed. Today, the texture is invisible until rollover. Looks like Gmail agreed with your comment. – Ken Mohnkern Mar 21 '17 at 12:50

I saw a presentation by Sean Kane from Netflix a few years ago, in which he described how the DVD queue works. You should study it if you can (if you have an account or know someone who does).

A couple of points to note:

  • He said the default move cursor didn't test very well, so they switched to a grab cursor, as suggested by GoodEnough.

  • The drag-and-drop is a progressive enhancement. You can still sort by filling in text boxes in the list order column. Many users never notice the drag-and-drop feature is available.

  • There's no drag handle. You can start the drag with mousedown anywhere in the row (except where another object, such as a link, is in the foreground).

| improve this answer | |
  • Can you provide a link to that study? – Majo0od Aug 21 '14 at 18:00
  • It was a presentation I saw in person. I think it was at an Adobe conference. – Patrick McElhaney Aug 21 '14 at 20:12
  • Ah ok. I was just curious to read that report fully. – Majo0od Aug 22 '14 at 11:43
  • Interesting point about it being a progressive enhancement. I wonder if the availability of the text boxes would make people think there aren't any other options. – Adam Zerner Mar 21 '17 at 6:33

There is a standard icon of three horizontal lines one on top of the other that implies items can be dragged and dropped.

It implies "friction" or "handle" and is a bit similar to the diagonal lines in the bottom right corner of windows or text boxes that allows resizing them.

| improve this answer | |
  • 3
    Gmail uses the same paradigm (sort of), they have grippies on the message items that indicate they can be dragged. You may want to also have a non-draggable way of doing the same action for accessibility. – Garo Yeriazarian Aug 11 '10 at 12:22
  • I don't think I'm familiar with this icon, is there a picture of it anywhere (or better yet, a downloadable version)? – Aaronaught Jan 21 '11 at 17:52
  • I found this image that shows the gmail drag handles: askdavetaylor.com/5-blog-pics/google-gmail-priority-inbox-7.png – Pau Giner Aug 1 '11 at 11:02

The move cursor is commonly used with dragable items in web apps.


| improve this answer | |

I suggest you use the little gripping hand (open when hovering, closed while dragging). Have some sort of gripping icon (a handle) that looks like something that can be grabbed (in Gmail it's a pair of dot columns (4 dots per column).

I would also suggest that you add a little animation showing the behavior to new users (or existing users if it's a new feature), just don't constantly show the animation every time a user is in your app.

| improve this answer | |

Dragging is a drag. After having recently finished revamping a couple of drag-and-drop UIs, I’ve actually come to the conclusion that next time I’ll change them to a sort of “click and drop”. Have a widget on each item that you click to select it for moving. Then you click where you want it to go. This seems to be going well in testing so far.

| improve this answer | |
  • That sounds like an interesting idea. In testing is it doing ok? Do people understand it without instructions or do you need to give hints to people on how to use it? – matto1990 Aug 12 '10 at 8:51
  • As always, be very careful about making the UI behave in an unexpected way. My advice would be to allow dragging, but also implement the click-and-drop too. – Rocketmagnet Aug 14 '10 at 22:50

When moving the cursor over draggable objects, it should be changed into a open hand. When an object is grabbed, it should be changed into a grabbing hand. While grabbing an object, the allowed drop zones could be emphasized from the other background (i.e. through shading, or coloring).

| improve this answer | |

I'm coming to this problem myself with a desktop application. The best solution I can come up with at the moment is to have an arrow on hover, which simply points to where the object can be dragged to, with some text saying drag and drop, or similar.

| improve this answer | |

Universal Whirlpool Symbol may be?.

The desktop application I work with allows files outside applications can be dragged into. Certain applications which allow drag-n-drop usually have a drop area or content pane; like a playlist in a music player. Drag-n-drop usability is a progressive disclosure but some users will never get to it intuitively. In such cases, The best I could think of advertising the drop-area is by having a whirlpool symbol background.

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.