In a healthcare product how will we show deactivated list items. I have given two options below where the first one is strike through option, which is there already in the older product and a new design where I have shaded the background with gray label.

Option 1 - strike through option

strike through option

Option 2 - shading the background with gray label

shading the background with gray label

Though I know that strike through option is not advisable, I have been asked to do it since how it was in older version. I am finding it bit tough to convince my management's mindset from option 1 to option 2.

Hence, I want someone to help me with more meaningful responses, suggestions and solutions which I could take it back to them to convince.

  • Can you explain when items are disabled?
    – jazZRo
    Mar 2, 2016 at 13:19
  • This is what user research is for! You've got a beautiful opportunity for an A/B test.
    – nadyne
    Mar 4, 2016 at 5:40

3 Answers 3


Arguments for Dimming

The main argument on your side is that dimming, rather than strikethrough, is a practically universal standard for deactivated since the 1980s. No one I can think of has ever used strikethrough. You can point to Microsoft, Apple, and Gnome guidelines (e.g., Microsoft’s Windows 10 UX Guidelines for UWP) to substantiate your claim. Web and mobile apps also follow this standard. In all probability, your users spend most of their time on someone else’s app, so it makes sense to conform to their standards, not make your own.

The impact of this is that your users are likely already familiar with this standard and thus know how to interpret it. It may be true that your current users are familiar with the strikethrough convention, but they probably also know the dimming standard too, so it won’t be hard to switch. A quick hallway usability test should give you the data to show your boss that there is no cost to legacy users to switching to dimming. Meanwhile, new users of your product won’t have to learn and remember the unfamiliar strikethrough convention, so it’s a definite benefit to them. What’s your user turnover like?

Another disadvantage of strikethrough is that it tends to attract the eye to the deactivate items at the expense of the activated items. Because of the strikethrough line, you have more “ink” in the deactivated items so they contrast more with your background than the activated items. Generally you want the opposite effect: want the activated items to attract more attention than the deactivated items.

Finally strikethrough can make the list items harder to read than dimming, and sometimes users do need to read a deactivated item. However, that effect depends on the exact graphic design. In your example, the dimmed and strikethrough items seem about equally hard to read to me.

Arguments for Strikethrough

Implicit in the above are some exceptions when strikethrough may actually be preferred:

  • Dimming by convention implies the user can do something in the near future to reactivate a control (e.g., change some settings in other controls, or maybe just wait awhile). If this is not the case, then maybe strikethrough is preferred. Otherwise, you could get users hopelessly poking around the app trying to reactivate something they can’t.

  • In some cases you do want users to attend to deactivated items. If a deactivate item means maybe taking a patient off certain medications, then maybe you should use strikethrough. With dimming, the users’ eyes tend to skip right over deactivated items.

  • While it’s important to be consistent with standards and general conventions, often it’s more important to be consistent with local conventions. If there are other parts of the app or other apps or artifacts the users use with the app (e.g., printed reports) that use strikethrough, then maybe your should too. The strength of impact of an inconsistency is proportional to its proximity.

If the list is the result of searching/querying/filtering, maybe you don’t want dimming or strikethrough. Maybe you want to simply hide all items that don’t meet the criteria. That removes distraction (and maybe scrolling) so user can more quickly see the items that matter.

A Pragmatic Compromise

If your boss is insistent on being consistent with the legacy version, then you can propose that the representation of deactivation be an option that can be set for each user. Existing installations of the app can use strikethrough by default, so it’s what your legacy users are used to (and they can change it if they never liked it in the first place). However, all new installations (presumably for new users) default to dimming. This will lead to strikethrough naturally phasing out with user turnover.

  • 1
    Possible downside of dimming: incompatible with monochrome (1-bit, not grayscale) printers. Another pragmatic compromise: Dimmed strike-through; no extra coding, both sides happy. But first try to convince the client that dimming is better. Mar 2, 2016 at 16:56
  • Thank you Michael for giving me the detail response. As per the comment I have made the dimmed text color darker such that its readable and distinguish from active once. Mar 8, 2016 at 13:44

Since the context of this solution is medical. Tell them that the strikethrough method comes across quite angry and negative. Considering that the tone of voice for a medical project generally needs to be somewhat human and friendly.

This article explains the rationale of branding/design for the medical sector:



The dimmed option is preferable because:

  1. Dimming disabled or temporarily unavailable options is a standard UI convention (it is the default appearance for disabled HTML form elements, for example.) Struck-through text is more typically reserved for recently deleted information, or (in print contexts) the removal of erroneous text.

  2. It is much easier for the user to visually differentiate dimmed items from the plaintext options. Have your stakeholder sit back a bit from the screen, squint, and look at your samples: the first table, using strikethrough, just turns into a mass of similar-looking text; it's not easy to pick out at a glance which choices are available and which are not. In the second table, however, it immediately leaps out that there are only three available options; the rest quite literally fade into the background.

(On that second point, if anything I would suggest removing the darker-gray background from the dimmed items, and only dim the text color -- the darker background tends to make those items stand out more, rather than less; and more importantly reduces contrast and therefore readability.)

If you're faced with a management team that fears design change, you might propose a "compromise" of doing both: dim and strike through the disabled options. This would be somewhat redundant, but wouldn't significantly impact either of the above points, and might give your management (and, let's face it, any users with the same mindset) a greater feeling of continuity with the previous design.

  • As mentioned, I will increase the dimmed text color bit darker to make it readable and distinguish from active once. Hopefully they will accept it, else will try using your other option. Thank you Daniel :-) Mar 8, 2016 at 15:01

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