Monday, 11 February 2013

Disable or hide UI components?

When rendering the UI for a user, if a user doesn't have access to certain options, should the UI components be disabled or hidden?

I've been pondering this question all day and my particular use-case relates to navigation in an app. After lots of thinking, some discussions and some googling for UI wisdom, I've come to a fairly definitive conclusion. Users should have visibility on all components/options as long as the user can potentially use them. What I mean here, is that if the components require certain conditions to be met before the user can use them then they should still be present. If for the current user the components can never be used - they should be hidden. An inconsistent UI should be avoided and an inconsistent UI where components come and go will only confuse users more. A good analogy suggested by someone on a similar topic:

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.

Obviously there's probably exceptions to this rule, but I imagine this will hold true for most use-cases of this nature.