Quick Usability Hit

Joel Spolsky of Fog Creek Software and Joel on Software says:

A long time ago, it became fashionable, even recommended, to disable menu items when they could not be used.

Don’t do this. Users see the disabled menu item that they want to click on, and are left entirely without a clue of what they are supposed to do to get the menu item to work.

Instead, leave the menu item enabled. If there’s some reason you can’t complete the action, the menu item can display a message telling the user why.

Point of order, wealthy poobah, but, seriously, that’s adding three extra steps to the process (click something you can’t do, read why you can’t do it, and dispel the message).  Nothing’s worse than an application that lets you try to do something and then taunts you when you cannot.

Additionally, this course of action gives developers the ability to make mistakes in implementing the solution, where turning them off until explicitly needed is a simple checkbox in the IDE.  Sometimes, you can trust developers with a checkbox.

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