I'm sure we're all aware now that when we see a greyed-out button, it either means that 1) we cannot click it, or 2) its current state is off - or false.

In my application, I have a square, which acts as a button, next to a list item. This button, when clicked, will either mark the selected item as Important or Not Important. When you hover over this "button", a tooltip appears.

My question is, what should the tooltip say?

If the button is greyed out, should it say "Important" or "Not Important"?

A grey button indicates a not important item, while a blue one indicates important.

  • 2
    Similar question with lots of good analysis: ux.stackexchange.com/questions/1318/…
    – Luke
    Jan 17, 2014 at 23:04
  • Thanks for the link, I added my "two cents" to that, too. Jan 17, 2014 at 23:09
  • Note that whatever the tooltip says, the design has to work without it as some users won't see tooltips (they don't move their mouse while deciding what to do, or they are on touch devices where "hover" is not an available paradigm).
    – Erics
    Jan 18, 2014 at 10:49
  • 1
    Also, please reconsider using "grayed out" as meaning "in unselected state". Use some other less-vibrant/less-vivid colouring to indicate that. You could have a blue button for selected, a white button outline for not-selected (with black text), and then a light grey button with dark grey text for "this button is disabled, don't bother clicking".
    – Erics
    Jan 18, 2014 at 10:52
  • @Erics that's exactly what it means in this case. If it's unselected, it is not important. If it's selected, it's important. :) Jan 18, 2014 at 22:16

2 Answers 2


This is an interesting question. I suppose you have three options:

  • (A) Have the tool tip show the current state: Important / Not Important
  • (B) Have the tool tip tell the action: Mark as unimportant / Mark as important
  • (C) Both: Currently Important - Mark an unimportant / Current unimportant - Mark as important

C seems too verbose. If your users are more often looking for information then A might make more sense. If your users are more often taking action then B would make more sense.


"Mark as important/mark as unimportant" depending on the current state might be a bit more informative and clear.

  • This is a good answer and I don't disagree, however I was trying to avoid using "Mark as". Jan 17, 2014 at 22:59
  • 1
    You could skip on the tooltip if you use an icon or graphic like an exclamation mark. But without further context or information, it's a bit open-ended. Jan 17, 2014 at 23:02
  • I guess it is a bit open-ended. Thanks for your input anyway. I was thinking of using an exclamation mark, but they are very thin and not very good for touch - unless you want to really concentrate to be able to touch it. Jan 17, 2014 at 23:08
  • 1
    No problem. You can get around the thinness of the icon by making the area around it (whitespace) part of the clickable area. Jan 17, 2014 at 23:14

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