In one of our applications, the user can select multiple items and delete as many of them as they wish in single click.

However, while processing this request there is some validation and authorization which restricts the user from deleting some items. So, three use cases are possible:

  1. All selected items will be deleted successfully;
  2. All selected items cannot be deleted;
  3. Some items will be deleted and some cannot.

How can I present the deletion status information to the user in the UI along with the reason for the failure (if there are any failures)? Any examples/mock-ups will be much appreciated.

  • If an item requires authorization, is it done as part of delete action ?
    – rags
    May 2, 2013 at 6:24
  • 1
    may b i hav mislead by authorization error - each item has a file associated with it, so error messages could be due to corruption/nonavailability of dependent files, DB error, network error, input processing validation error. May 2, 2013 at 7:59
  • In that case you cannot know which items can be deleted and which are not unless delete is tried on the item
    – rags
    May 2, 2013 at 9:48
  • You might consider to rethink this feature because it seems flawed to me. It is frustrating enough to delete something and get back an error message. What happens to the items that cannot be deleted? Are they loitering in the UI? As a user I would be extremely frustrated to have items that I cannot open or delete. May 2, 2013 at 10:41

4 Answers 4


One solution to overcome a hindrance is to make the hindrance disappear. If the user cannot perform an action then there is no need of a partial success message of any kind because there will be no failure.

Are you familiar with the Poka-Yoke technique ? It is has been formalized for industrial purpose but I think it can be helpful in your case.

Different possibilities :

  • When selecting all the items at once do not accept deletion, display deletion just for items that can be deleted

enter image description here This is from Gmail, which displays contextual menus

  • Have a deletion mode that does not shows the items that cannot be deleted (in general I recommend avoiding modes, but you know rules are made to be broken...)
  • Do not accept select all
  • Organize the items so you can show the users what items can be deleted or not (use colors, ranking or a deletable items tab which is more or less a mode but less confusing I guess)

You can blend those propositions of course.

  • Thanks for ur suggestion, as u said i could restrict the deletion of all items at once to some limit (ex: delete 10 items max). But some authorization error will occur dynamically while processing the items info. any help on final message display design ? May 2, 2013 at 7:44
  • It is not what I am suggesting : you do not want to give a limit you want to restrict the deletion to some items, those that are not going to need an error message. Do not accept select all means deletion one by one. When not deletable do not give the option. May 2, 2013 at 8:06
  • Sorry I misunderstood your question. I thinks what @Ruslan proposes is a good track to follow. May 2, 2013 at 10:32

So if I understood you correctly User by default may delete any item but sometimes can't do so because of system failures etc.

Here are some tips how to deal with the situations like that:

  1. If all the items were deleted successfully just remove them from the UI; no further notifications and messages are required - the fact that user can no longer see the item is verbose enough.
  2. If only a portion of selection could be deleted, remove the ones that were deleted, keep the ones that could not be deleted selected, highlight them for a brief amount of time (2-3 second) and notify user that not all items could be deleted.
  3. If none of the selection could be deleted, keep them all selected, no need to highlight here. And notify the user that no items could be deleted.

It will be also correct, in case second or third scenario happened, to provide user with information why it happened and what should she do next. Also try to provide as less errors to user as possible. If deletion fails, try to re-run it again few times before shooting an error at user.

  • +1 for better understanding the question than I did. I just disagree on the highlight for a brief amount of time : you can highlight them until the next action. May 2, 2013 at 8:32
  • IMHO keeping highlight until next action will raise questions. Brief highlight to draw user's attention will be enough.
    – Ruslan
    May 2, 2013 at 8:42

One approach might be: If the user does not have authorization to delete some element, do not provide any way to select it for deletion. The exact way to represent this might depend upon the specific application.


In the UI, maintain an additional column for the items to display Delete Status. On delete, deleted records can be marked as "Successfully Deleted" and further selection for deletion not allowed. For failed records, this column should hold the reason for Failure. Color codification also can be applied to improve visibility.

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