User Interface Design Tips is a solid introduction to some of the concepts of design for applications. This one got me thinking:
“Gray things out, do not remove them. You often find that at certain times it is not applicable to give your users access to all the functionality of an application. You need to select an object before you can delete it, so to reinforce your mental model the application should do something with the Delete button and/or menu item. Should the button be removed or grayed out? Gray it out, never remove it. By graying things out when they shouldn’t be used people can start building an accurate mental model as
to how your application works. If you simply remove a widget or menu item instead of graying it out then it is much more difficult for your users to build an accurate mental model because they only know what is currently available to them, and not what is not available. The old adage that out of sight is out of mind is directly applicable here.”
While this rings true, I’ve seen it fail on websites in testing. Users think a grayed out link is simply a gray link, and can’t figure out why it doesn’t work.
Perhaps this is one of those cases where a weblication is sufficiantly different from an application that users aren’t ready for a standard to make the leap across. Of perhaps there are so few standards in link design that users just click everything, hoping that something will eventually work.