I have a windows based desktop LOB application. In a multi step process a user is requested to select a SINGLE row on a datagrid. My question is? should or shouldnt I use a selection column to indicate which row is selected or not? Note that the row is highlighted when selected. enter image description here

Pros: 1. Gives an additional indication as to which row has been selected 2. Adds consistency in the system on other datagrids where multiple rows can be selected.

Cons: 1. Uses additional space 2. User may think they are able to select more than one column

3 Answers 3


I think that the problem isn't the extra column for selection, but the element used for it. If you replace the checkboxes for radio buttons, you'll get a better affordance, it would be clearer that only one option is valid.

Now, the fact that the column is at the right or left side I guess it's questionable, but I don't think it would confuse the user, especially when other pages of the application follow this right-side selection column pattern. It's a learning curve that the user will get used to quickly.

I suggest you to increase the clickable area for the selection, for example: allow the user to make a selection by clicking in any area of the whole line. That will help any user: left or right handed. And the column will be only a visual aid for non heavy users.

  • Single selection = radio button (basic usability) Nov 6, 2012 at 19:22
  • Could you elaborate why a radio buttion is more helpful than highlighting a single row? Nov 7, 2012 at 18:59
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    The highlight is visually useful for showing the selection. But it doesn't show (by itself) that you can only make one selection. You will discover if it is a 'one selection only' list by clicking. Dropbox (web) for instance, lets you select multiple lines (with control and shift). Just by looking at the screen, you don't quite know how many kinds of selecions you can do, you have to test it. I said that the radio button affordance is better than the highlight, 'cause only by looking at it, you know that is an 'one selection only' list.
    – Flavia
    Nov 7, 2012 at 19:15

You should not use a selection column as it is redundant and confusing. It defies convention in a way that does not increase usability. A selection column can be useful say when you need to select multiple items at once in a pattern, such as select all, or select unread but you already have the filter on many fields. If you don't find yourself needing to programatically select and then refine the selection, a selection column might not be for you. Also typically they go on the left if you do decide to keep it.

  • I agree with what you're saying, however I'm curious as to why selection column would typically be on the left. With majority of users being right handed wouldn't it make more sense to place it on the right as with scrollbars and other controls?
    – HarveyZA
    Nov 6, 2012 at 14:01
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    (western culture) Users read from left to right. Since users will be quickly scanning which items are selected it takes less time to scan for items on the left. Nov 6, 2012 at 14:03

You ask for a single selection; in this case, it's redundant. In the general case, however, it's useful.

Think of using a selection / checkbox column when users are likely to spend a lot of time crafting a selection. Without it, a single accidental click can wipe out all their work.

For example, if users scroll through a long list and select items one at a time, then batch an operation on all of those items. They can spend 10s of seconds or more, and it's rude to throw away all that work just due to a stray click.

In this case, you might consider adding an indication as to how many items are selected at the top. You might also consider removing the yellow indication of which column has been clicked on, as it can be confusing--but ask your users first, because sometimes users want that as an indication of how far they got in the selection process.

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