Is it bad practice to use different input methods (separate buttons vs a drop-down menu) to visually indicate which mode an application is currently in? If so, why?
We have an application with two buttons: "on" and "off". Depending on a variety of conditions the application will be in one of two modes: "A" or "B". When in mode "A" clicking either button will send the corresponding command to a physical device. In mode "B" clicking either button will just update a value in a database. The UI has a text label saying which mode it is currently in and an icon appears next to the label when in mode "A" to further indicate that clicking a button will operate a physical device.
We have received some requests to make the distinction between the modes more obvious. One of the suggestions is to display the two buttons when in mode "A" and a drop-down menu with the two options when in mode "B". To me, this doesn't seem like an appropriate way to visually differentiate the modes, but I'm having trouble articulating why.
My argument would be that the use of particular UI component should be based on the type of data being presented and the amount of space you have to present it. It should not be chosen just because it is visually distinct from a different component.