I have a problem where in a table row I have a set of buttons that defines actions of that specific table row. For instance "delete", "edit" and so on. However, in one instance some of the rows of the table will be editable (represented with classic pen symbol) and sometimes not editable.

However, we would like the user to be able to view the details even though it's not editable which will take the user to the SAME page as "Edit" does with the exception that they cannot change anything. Just view.

So we have a few options initially (but any ideas are welcome):

  1. Replace the icons, if its editable use the pen, if not editable - an eye for view. It can be confusing because it will take the user to the same page but with different meanings.

  2. Use the edit symbol in both instances, but with an extra icon inserted in the pen symbol that indicates that it's locked. A bit of a contradiction since it's editable, but really not.

Anyone got any ideas or know of a system that has a solution to the same paradigm? Also, what's your opinions on this?

4 Answers 4


Most sites and applications will display the edit icon if an item is editable, otherwise nothing. Here is an example from the web UI that manages our automated builds (developed by Atlassian).

enter image description here

The more general paradigm is to have an "actions" column with icons representing all the things you can do with a row in the table. Clicking on the action icon allows you to carry out that action. In the above example you click on the build number to view, but there is nothing stopping you from having a view icon with associated action.

One other thing. I think it is a good idea to allow users who can edit items to be able to open them in view mode as well. It is reassuring for the user that they won't break anything accidentally while viewing.


I would recommend having the view, edit, and delete icons always present.

This allows you to have a consistent look and feel while at the same time allowing the user to choose what mode they want to view the details in, edit mode or read-only mode.

This is for registry keys, but here's a grid showing the always present look and feel:

enter image description here


I would use one action on the rows that can't be editable: "see details", and two actions on the rows that can be editable: "see details" and "edit". Using any other symbols or icons would be confusing for the user, because he will have to decode these symbols, and the whole operation will take much more time to complete.

I think there should be also an option to switch from view to edit state in the editable details view. User shouldn't be forced to go back to the table to click edit button, while he is on the details view.

Maybe this thread would be helpful: Best way to show many user actions for table rows?


Does the system clearly communicate WHY these records are not editable? Does the user understand this in terms of their domain?

I would consider Nielsen's "visibility of system status" heuristics applies not about "what controls are active on a record" but rather "what is the logical status of a record". When user understands this status, then the change between Editable/Not-Editable is not a 'mystery' but rather becomes expected. For example if another user is currently editing the record and this is the reason the record is not editable, then indicate this is a "checked-out" record.

While the approach to the "Edit\View" icons still needs a decision, it is now a far less important point of communication, because the UI will be less surprising once user understands the root cause of the Edit\View behaviour.

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