I'm designing a windows software interface and I'm focusing now on a vertical toolbar with 20+ buttons. In a big screen, we have enough vertical space to fit all the buttons in a single column, but as the vertical space gets smaller, I have to decide whether I'll arrange the buttons in two (or more) columns or if I'll simply hide the buttons that don't fit in the space (similar to what happens to photoshop toolbar)...

so far, I'm leaning towards the first option, because the client needs to be constantly aware of the fact that there are buttons available or not... the problem is that with more than two columns, the toolbar starts to look really ugly... ;)

do you have any suggestions on how I can solve this problem in some other way?

  • Are they open to the windows ribbon style of presenting buttons?
    – Michael Lai
    Jul 15 '14 at 6:12
  • Show a screenshot, please. It will be easier to help you.
    – sergiol
    Jul 15 '14 at 20:56

It sounds like you need to edit your buttons! Not so much to save space, but because that's more buttons than a user's attention can accommodate (even when there is space to show them all).

In other words, if you are displaying 20+ buttons, they might as well be invisible most of the time because the user isn't constantly watching them all. So, your UI would be less distracting if you made a hierarchy with just 3-5 "top-level" buttons visible all the time. Maybe you could do something like Photoshop's marquee toolbar button, which actually stands in for 5 different marquee tools, but only displays the most recently-used one until you click on it.


you could create a few categories that the buttons belong to and group the categories so that the user could hover on. maybe the commonly used ones pinned. similar to how photoshop groups brush,gradient,pencil or crop/slice etc.

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