In a UI, I get the user to make a selection from a combo box. This selection influences what other controls will need to be shown. There are also other controls that need to be shown, independently of which item is selected in the combo box. How can I make it clear that some controls "belong" to a particular item in the combo box?

I thought of using a group box combined with a combo box, like so:

However, I believe this is not considered to be good practice, judging from the lack of such a control in the Qt Toolbox, and from the statement on the Microsoft Dev Center that one shouldn't put controls in group box labels. On that page, they recommend to use tabs instead:

But, again, this doesn't seem to be the right approach: In my understanding, tabs should be used to switch between different independent views, and not to make a selection. Will it be clear enough to users that selecting one of the tabs also makes the choice of whether "Method A" or "Method B" will be used? Is there a different commonly used approach to this problem that I've missed?

  • 2
    My impression from your mock ups: first mock up implies that you can only enter options for a single method - the one selected in the combo; second mock up implies that options for both methods can be entered. Apr 1, 2013 at 18:34
  • @MarjanVenema: Good point! I guess that implies that out of the two presented options, the first would be preferable? In this application, the options inside the group box indeed apply exclusively to the method selected in the combo box - options applying independently of the combo box selection are outside the group box.
    – Jake
    Apr 1, 2013 at 18:40
  • Of course the options in the group box (or on the selected tab) apply only to the method selected (by the box or the tab). If pressing button is only ever going to use the options from a single method, then yes, I'd opt for the combo box. Even more so if the kind of options are exactly the same for all methods (even when their values might vary) as having multiple tabs with the exact same combination of controls would seem strange to me. I just hope that the poor user doesn't have to re-enter any options when he comes back to this form and selects a different method... Apr 1, 2013 at 19:47
  • The tabbed approach, even with all tabs having the same controls, would be better at conveying that all option settings would be recorded, even if pressing button would only use a single method. In that case however, I am not sure whether it would be sufficiently clear that the tab selection is also the method used when pressing button. You might need to add some text to the button or close to it indicating the selected method. Apr 1, 2013 at 19:51
  • @MarjanVenema: Thanks for the detailed reply. I can't quite imagine what your suggestion of adding text to or close to the button might look like. Do you mean that the button text should change to, say, "Run using Method A" if Method A is selected? Or are you thinking of something like a "status indicator" ("Selected method: A") near the button?
    – Jake
    Apr 1, 2013 at 19:58

2 Answers 2


Your situation is outside of the norm, so don't expect a guide to cover your situation exactly. Look for a similar principle and apply your judgement.

I would argue that you should put the control in a group label (as per your first example) to clearly indicate that the settings are related to the control. Microsoft's guidelines assume that the controls aren't conditional, so they have no need to have grouping. However, they provide for an exception case which would apply to your situation:

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  • This is what I ended up doing, thank you for the expert advice!
    – Jake
    Apr 3, 2013 at 21:23

With regards to the exception mentioned by JohnGB the use of radio buttons (one per method) as a group box label to activate/deactivate and control the settings accordingly seems to be the standard. It's also a good idea to show the - although deactivated - options the user could access when selecting the other method/radio button.

  • 1
    Thanks, that's a good suggestion. In my concrete case, the approach of using radio buttons and only activating the selected group box wouldn't work so well because there are quite a large number of methods, which would probably make the interface too large (and intimidating). I can see this being very useful in other situations, though.
    – Jake
    Apr 1, 2013 at 19:25

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