I have a table with a long list of rows. You can perform multiple actions on these rows, some might be Edit and Delete. I want to add a Disable action, but I'm concerned that users won't understand the different between Delete and Disable.

How can I make sure that users understand the differences between these two actions when there's minimal room for explanation?

  • 2
    @JonW I just rewrote the question to remove the notion of icons entirely. I think it's a valid question if we're talking about communicating differences between potential actions, as opposed to iconography. Aug 13 '13 at 22:29
  • 2
    Great edit @DanielNewman!
    – Ben Brocka
    Aug 14 '13 at 18:28

Personally, I would make the UI different to compensate for their similarity. If they were both buttons, a user may accidently click on one than the other.

Disable works well with toggles because it can be reversed. The delete action can be as simple as an icon or button. A trashcan or X is pretty universal.

enter image description here

  • "enable/disable" and "on/off" are pretty much synonymous. Using a toggle switch for disable makes a lot of sense. Aug 20 '13 at 10:03
  • Another thing you could do is have it work in a positive sense, ie a column of "enabled" check boxes, where "enabled" could be replaced with something domain specific like "show in page".
    – Owen
    Dec 7 '13 at 7:15
  • i'd go for an element whose design implies clickability rather than slidability, or make you slidable object trigger on mouse down to show the user they only need to click
    – Toni Leigh
    Dec 7 '13 at 17:53

(Assuming you are using icons without labels. Also, avoiding answering with icon suggestions based on comments under question.)

Proximity - The Disable and Delete actions are similar because they affect the availability of the rows, so placing the icons next to each other would be beneficial. A user, who is looking for a delete icon, may instead choose to disable once they see the option is available right next to the delete icon.

Descriptive Tooltips - Instead of using "Disable" and "Delete", you can provide more information in the tooltip to offer the user better guidance.

Immediate Action vs. Dialogue - The Disable action is easily reversed, so this action can be performed immediately after a user selects the disable icon. If the user is unhappy with the result, they should be able reverse the action easily with an enable button (ideally the disable button would turn into an enable button). On the other hand, the Delete action is more destructive, and can be prompted with a dialogue box that would ensure the user wanted to perform this action. The result of clicking each icon informs the user of what actions occurred and are easily reversible.


There is a practice to make Delete button more distinct, signalling of its "danger nature".
enter image description here . . enter image description here


I wonder... is it necessary to distinguish between 'disable' and 'delete' at all? Or can you modify the user's workflow so that the two are mutually exclusive?

Here's what I mean: I use online BillPay with my bank, and have many payees. Over time, I may no longer need to pay a payee, and so I can 'disable' them (but they still can be re-enabled, and their payment history remains active. I can delete a payee only if I first disable them.

This works for the banking workflow, as I rarely need directly delete a payee; I always want to archive them for awhile first before ultimately deleting them. Take a careful look at your workflow to see if you can do something similar.


For disabling a row
I would use a lock icon. An open lock would signifiy an enabled row and vice versa.
enter image description here

For deleting a row
I would use the traditional icons
enter image description here

  • 2
    I don't think a lock is a good idea to signify enabled/disabled. I associate it with readonly and encryption. Aug 16 '13 at 8:01

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