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Our development team needs to create an interface to select a vehicle. First the user will select the Year, then the Make, then the Model, and finally an Engine. The valid choices for each choice will be filtered by the prior selections made by the user.

In the past we've used cascading drop downs, but our team has been given leeway to implement an alternative method for the user to make these selections.

What are some alternatives to this classic UI feature?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Take a look at Toyota's car selector interface for some inspiration. You can see other implementations based on the same underlying concept at http://newegg.com and http://bhphotovideo.com. Officially it's called a live filter, and might be the best way to deliver what your users really need.

I personally don't like cascading drop downs because they are hard to navigate, and if I slip my mouse's focus off the menu I have to start all over again. Depending on the complexity of the choices, they can also be very heavy to load for something where the user is only interested in one of the options. I would set up your filter so that it will start working in this order:

  • Year/Make. The user may be thinking about the type of vehicle first.
  • [Make chosen] Year/Model. then the other.
  • [Year chosen] Make. then Model.
  • Engine

Paper parts catalogs are organized by Make/Year/Model (reverse chronological order). That will be a natural flow of things for most users.

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This is the solution I was thinking about implementing. Unfortunately, I've gotten some more feedback since posting this question that our users prefer to use the mouse over the keyboard though. I have to do some more investigation into what percentage of our user base holds this preference, but we may be stuck with cascading drop downs. That would be a serious bummer. I really like the live filter solution. –  Craig M Feb 21 '11 at 20:13
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I don't think that there is a better interface for what you are trying to do. First, like you have mentioned, this is the "classic" option - people have seen it and understand it, especially with your specific business case (selecting a vehicle model).

Second, the only real viable alternative to this is the "wizard" style control, which in this case is massive overkill because you are forcing the user to go through multiple pages just to select a single dropdown for each step. It is also less user friendly for that exact reason.

Depending on the number of options, you could test with select boxes (essentially dropdowns that show more than one item at a time and have an as-needed scrollbar) or radio buttons for each individual question. This might make the selection of the desired option easier, since it is easier to see what options are available, but this really isn't that different of an interface from the standard.

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I like a drilldown menu for this sort of navigation. It's not as fiddly as drop-down menus, and it is quite simple to navigate.

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