Selecting elements in a table...

1 Mar 2005 - 6:15pm
350 reads
leo.frishberg a...

Here's an IxD problem I've grappled with for years and haven't had a
satisfactory resolution. I expect that many of us have opinions, perhaps
some have references, and maybe even some studies.

In many use cases / design patterns, the proverbial "table" (matrix, grid)
is an excellent widget to both display the results of data and provide an
input mechanism. The advantages of tables include:

A) a highly rational layout of information that allows the user to clearly
compare entries one to the other
B) an ability to sort/filter and arrange the elements in ways that have
become commonplace (if not standardized)
C) an efficient display device that packs a lot of information in a fairly
compact area

Several disadvantages come along as well, but the one I'm most interested in
resolving is "selection."

In the browser context, row selection is often achieved using a checkbox,
along with the necessary set of management utilities to select all, deselect
all, etc.
In the rich application context, many table widgets provide built-in
selection methods, that include Ctrl (command), Shift and other keyboard
modes, along with highlighting rows to indicate membership in the set.

I have had less than optimal results from either approach. The first case
takes up space in the table, requires additional management functions and
looks out of place in a rich application context. The second approach has
proven virtually undiscoverable by users in spite of the notion of
"selection" in common office products such as Excel or Word tables (that is,
my usability testing in this area has shown that users are not aware of the
ways to arbitrarily select rows in a table).

I'm looking for alternatives / innovations that others have tried and
preferably tested.


Leo Frishberg
Architect, User Experience
Advanced Development Group
Logic Analyzer Product Line
Ph: +1 503.627.2833
Fax: +1 503.627.2009
Tektronix, Inc.

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