tyler butler

Hiding vs. Disabling

Someone came by my office today and asked me if I could show him how to make a column on a SharePoint list required. No problem! While this isn’t as simple as it could be, it’s pretty straightforward. Go into the list you want to change, select List Settings from the Settings drop down, then click the column you want to change in the List Settings page. You should see an option called “Require that this column contains information.” By default, this is off, but turning it on will make the column required.

However, in this case, that option wasn’t showing in the UI. The reason was that the column was a Yes/No (check box) field. Now, if you think about it, this makes sense. A checkbox always has state, either checked or unchecked, so it’s by nature required. A user always has to fill in a checkbox with some data, either by checking it or unchecking it. It all comes down to the default state, which is settable in the SharePoint UI.

The interesting thing here, though, is that the user didn’t stop to think about this. And that makes sense. He just wanted to make a column required; he didn’t think about what type of column it was. SharePoint totally removes the required field setting from the UI for Yes/No fields because it doesn’t make sense. However, the user got confused. He wasn’t sure if the UI was missing by design or if he wasn’t looking in the right spot for the setting. If you have a task to accomplish using relatively unfamiliar UI, you go to the place that makes sense to you, but you’re never sure you’re in the right place. In this case, the user poked around other parts of the UI before coming to me, because he thought he was looking in the wrong place.

This might be alleviated by disabling (i.e. graying out) the part of the UI that is not applicable. This is somewhat clearer, because it says, “Yes, this is where you would change this setting, but it doesn’t make sense here or is not allowed.” This isn’t a hard rule. You can’t always display all possible settings in one piece of UI because if there are a large number of settings, things can get confusing and distracting. Some hiding does make sense in many cases. But it is worth some dedicated thought about your UI and what your users are trying to accomplish when deciding whether to hide a piece of UI or simply gray it out.