Single-choice drop down boxes

There is no doubting that drop-down boxes are useful. However, when drop-down boxes provide only a single option, (and this can happen for different reasons) the need to select that option seems cumbersome. By definition, there should be at least two options when you pull-down a drop-down box. So, when a user is faced with a single option, it does seem pointless to ask the user to “select” that option. There is nothing to select.

There is a simple solution: automate the selection when the drop-down box has only one option. I don’t know how hard it would be to program but I can’t imagine that counting the number of options available in a drop-down and then doing a certain action if there’s only one option would be difficult. (Smart developer-person correct me if I am wrong.)

I’m writing about this because I’ve come across single option drop-down boxes a few times recently. I understand that this “state” (single option) can happen because of a particular choice made previously (in the user interface) or a combination of choices. What I’m hoping for is that someone will obviate the need for that extra pull-down and selection, essentially two actions.

What do you think: am I asking for too much?

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6 thoughts on “Single-choice drop down boxes

  1. Hi Percy,

    Single-choice drop-down boxes? I haven’t seen any of those – could you point out some examples where you’ve seen this? I was wondering, if there’s a single option, then using a drop-down box isn’t the correct GUI widget to use. Don’t you think a check box would be a more appropriate UI element to use (of course, with a clear and meaningful checkbox label)? What do you feel? Need your expert comments on this! :-)

  2. Hemant: I didn’t explain myself well enough in the post. The question wasn’t about which UI element to use: it was about drop-down boxes and the cases when the data in the drop-down box has only one option or choice.

    You could get this state in a number of ways. For example, if you enter specific data in a form, then the choices in a drop-down may be whittled down to only 1 (one). In that case, choosing the option is pointless because there is really no “choice”.

    The key point here is that the use of the drop-down box as the UI element is correct. However, in certain cases, it may make things easier for users if single-choice drop-downs don’t require users to “choose” the option.

  3. These kind of problems usually occur when drop-boxes have to be dynamically generated depending on prior inputs. Yes, I understand what you say – I’ve felt the same way when I click on drop-box and find only one choice. It’s a simple block of code that the developer can add to hide the drop box on one input or preselect it so that the user doesn’t have to click the drop-down arrow and find the one item.

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