Comments from this question prompted me with this other usability proposal. In my opinion, tt's a bad idea to hide disabled options.

I like to see all the available options regardless whether some are disabled. I don't want to see options appearing and disappearing on me because of certain conditions. I don't want to go "I swear I saw this menu option a minute ago... where the hell did it go?". Don't make me think. When the light bulb burns out, the light switch is still there. In the physical world, things don't disappear in thin air when they switch to a unusable condition.


I am not making a blank sweeping statements that ALL options should visible. Obviously if your security role doesn't allow you to see an option you should never see it. I am talking about the same option going in and out in visibility due to actions taken by you.

  • 3
    What's your question?
    – Rahul
    Commented Aug 28, 2010 at 13:39
  • I edited the title of your post so that it better fits the Q&A model of this site. Please see the FAQ. Commented Aug 28, 2010 at 15:41
  • 1
    Another Q: Hide or disable form options?, might also be of interest.
    – Lode
    Commented May 3, 2011 at 7:32
  • "In the physical world" .. people are much more OK with switching context. Also it is easy to ignore the light switch as you know the usage of it. New elements in new websites/applications might be more in-the-way as they are less easy to ignore.
    – Lode
    Commented May 3, 2011 at 7:35

6 Answers 6


I agree with this if the case is the user hasn't met certain requirements to enable the option. Like selecting text.

But I work with a lot of applications where options are disabled by role. In that case, this particular user will never be able to use those options, therefore, they shouldn't be visible to this user.

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    +1 on role based auth. This is exactly what I was going to say. If the user of type x has no way to become a user of type y (without being promoted), why would we ever display all of type y's functionality? Commented Aug 27, 2010 at 12:52
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    Same goes for any administrative functionality built into the site. Commented Aug 27, 2010 at 12:58
  • yes of course if you don't have permission to view the option, you should never see it. I didn't mean to advocate a slam dunk show every little option to everyone. Commented Aug 27, 2010 at 16:24

Greyed out options are teasers; users want to know how to reach those inaccessible options, thus encouraging deeper exploration of the app. If it concers a mac app, then it's best to follow the OSX HI Guidelines, which states:

When a menu item is unavailable—because it doesn’t apply to the selected object or to the selected object in its current state, or because nothing is selected, for example—the item should appear dimmed (gray) in the menu and is not highlighted when the user moves the pointer over it.


Tony, it's interesting that you took our opinions from the last question and spun them into a new question.

My non-answer is this: at work I've been saying all week—about some UI-design issues we're addressing—that we need to test our opinions by putting prototypes in front of users.

To all: does anyone have research data that disagrees with Tony's position ("Never hide disabled options") and, if so, would you tell us about the context?


I am sure there are scenarios in which this may not be feasible, or at least may make the UI clunky. However, in principle I do agree with you and think that this should be considered when developing a UI, but not as a rule.

  • So if they are enabled, the screen is not clunky but if they are, the screen is? How is that if they take the same amount of space. Your other option is push these little used options to a collapsible region in the menu like Microsoft does with Office. Although some people hate this. There's no solution which makes everyone happy. Commented Aug 27, 2010 at 16:26
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    If we're just talking about a couple of buttons (Submit/Cancel), and Submit is not enabled due to the form not passing validation rules, then yes I'd say Submit should be shown in a disabled state so the user can get feedback. When you start getting into scenarios in which there are 'N' number of buttons, maybe showing all of the disabled ones may not make sense. Like Is said, this could be a good pattern to follow, but not a rule to abide by.
    – user708
    Commented Aug 27, 2010 at 18:01

Definitely not a rule, but I agree as well.

We made a set of hosted real estate tools, and our goal was to have as simple of a process as possible. Our "Create Listing" page looked exactly the same as the "Edit Listing" page, but without the section for attaching files (images/documents) and our users definitely found this frustrating. We ended up putting the sections in, but with a message saying "Please save your listing in order to upload your [images/files]"... Worked very well as a temporary fix while we added the ability.


I have categorize this 2 case:

1) If its disabled and user can not do anything about then is better to not show at all, or if you show it no need for tooltip.

2) If its disabled because you need from your user to select an option that is very near (eg above the button) then you need to tell him with a tool tip, please select your option then click on me.

Also there is one more that you need to decide for the control if you show it or not.

If the page/dialog layout is the same for many actions, then left the button there disabled, so the user not forget his place.

If the page/dialog layout is not the same and this action is just included in different dialogs, then you do not need to show him all the time. (eg you do not need to show to not loged user, that the is a button that is go you to backoffice but you need to logon first).

The buttons, or actions that do the same thinks on different pages, must be found on the same point of the page/dialog. Show this is a rule, so even some time if you prefer to not show something, then you need to keep his place clear.

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