We are displaying a list of items, each with a set of options (or single option in some cases). The options are displayed using radio buttons because only one may be selected. A selection is required - if the user tries to proceed without making a selection they will get an error message.

I'm trying to determine the best treatment for defaulting (or not) the radio button selections. I'm leaning towards treatment "C" but would love to hear other thoughts.

Treatment options

  • It is impossible to answer your question without an example of what the options are (and what the items are). – Izhaki Jan 23 '14 at 22:44
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    Interesting title, wonder where you got the idea from? =D – Code Maverick Jan 23 '14 at 23:00
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    Entirely dependent on context. What are the pros/cons of a user having a default selection in each situation? How important is it that a user make a conscious decision? etc. – DA01 Jan 23 '14 at 23:39
  • If there is only one check box in the group then yes absolutely. – tim.baker Jan 24 '14 at 3:19

It is your role as a designer to reduce potential errors. Having a default would do just that.

However, a default selection may not make sense if the it may lead to great dismay when users ignore it (which is possible); for instance, a default option saying "I hereby promise to pay you a million dollar" would not make any sense.

It seems to me that you are misusing the radio box pattern for something it really should be. Although most browsers allow to start with no selection, there should always be a default in a radio group. In addition, once a selection has been made, you cannot deselect - one option always has to be selected.

Considering this, I don't see the point in providing a single option that is either selected in a way the user cannot interact with it, or not selected, but if selected the user cannot undo.


This is usually a scenario that is decided by business rules. If the DM (decision maker) says their research shows that certain options are selected the majority of the time, then maybe the business rule says that the option needs to be defaulted.

If none of the above applies and if every item is requires a selection, then use no defaults at all. That's a very easy validation check.

To further what @Izhaki was alluding to at the end of their answer, if you only have one option or selection to choose from, then you need to use a checkbox, not a radio button, that's what they're there for, single option true/false selections.

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