[thelist] displaying 'disabled' options

David Kaufman david at gigawatt.com
Wed Feb 2 17:07:14 CST 2005

Seyon <evoltlist at delime.com> wrote:
> Stemming from Rob's dilemma with the disabled property, I pose this
> question:
> Wouldn't the simplest solution be to simply not display the disabled
> options. What advantages/benefits do the users gain by seeing options
> they can't select? What situations might there be where viewing the
> disabled options is a good/bad thing?
> Note, this is directed solely at the POV of the end-user. It's not a
> matter of "well then I'd have to manually edit 100 pages", or other
> such technical issues.

For the same reason you might see a "SOLD" sticker plastered across a 
"For Sale" sign in the front yard of a house.  Why don't they just take 
the sign down?  Realtors even do this in print advertising all the time, 
they pay good money for ad space listing pictures of houses with "SOLD" 
printed across the front of them.  They do that as a form of advertising 
to (try to) show people that houses are moving fast, that the buyers 
better buy fast if they see something they want, and convince would-be 
sellers that the realtor can move their house, too.  Does it work?  I 
dunno, but it's a use case.

Retailers do the same thing for merchandise.  Salespeople call this sort 
of thing a "call to action", a way to get the would-be buyer to stop 
considering their options and take the next step in the buying process.

Here's another use case.  How about a shopping cart, to show items that 
are *usually* available but currently out of stock:

Pick color:
<select name="color">


  <option disabled="disabled">Blue (temporarily out of stock)</option>
  <option disabled="disabled">Black (temporarily out of stock)</option>

Why not remove blue and black from the list, since they're out of stock? 
I can imagine the merchant wanting to keep them there to indicate that, 
if the buyer really wants that color, it's only unavailable temporarily, 
and they might check back tomorrow.  If it were removed entirely, buyers 
might assume that the merchant never had it and never will.  The 
merchant may have better prices than their competition and want their 
customers to know that they will be getting more soon.  Rob makes a 
similar point about an option that is "coming soon".

In a list of shipping options, you might want to dynamically disable the 
"Bicycle Courier" delivery option if the shopping cart contains a 
refrigerator, but I agree that in all these plausible cases for a 
disabled option, some further (parenthetic) explanation always seems 
necessary.  If you disable something without it, people will wonder why, 
and it can only lead to user-unfriendly confusion.

Since it doesn't work in IE, it's a bit of a moot point, but I'd 
normally have an onchange popup that says: "Hey.  By law, we can no 
longer ship refrigerators by bicycle.  Please choose another delivery 
option", but even with that, it *would* be nice if the user had had some 
visual indication before they chose it, while just looking at their 
options, that there might be a problem with that particular choice, like 
grayed out text... or a yellow triangular warning sign..."

I can think of lots of use cases where you might want to show people 
what they are missing.  They might want to know that if they remove the 
fridge from the shopping cart, they can get the CD's delivered today by 
courier, and knowing that might make them decide to place two separate 
orders, instead.  And showing them what's currently unavailable (and 
why) might prevent them from complaining later "Well, on your website I 
didn't see a Bicycle Courier delivery option!".


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