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I have 2 options to show filters for a table. One option places filters on the top and the other on the side of the table. For both options we'll give users the ability to hide the filters (by clicking a collapse icon). The number of filters could get very large and they are added/deleted by the users.

What research exists to support one over the other? Does the context of the data impact which option would be better for the user?

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It's pretty obvious that if the user adds lots of filter options for the side view that they will be listed down the page (will there be a height limit with scroll or can it be infinite?) but what about for the top view? Would it be fixed width and height and scroll horizontally or would the options stack vertically? – eleanor.mal Apr 24 '13 at 23:33

There are good examples for each of the cases, but they are chosen in conjunction with the navigation placement and overall site design.

OKCupid uses a top filter and it suits their needs well, however they already have a left navigation bar, a top filter is the only option that makes sense for them.

enter image description here

oDesk on the other hand uses a left filter, which works because they have a top navigation bar.
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Overall, given the option, I would recommend having filters on the left. Usually filters are horizontally short, and so left filters are easier to stack on top of each other; allow the full vertical space to be used for the elements that are being filtered; and I have found are generally easier to use.

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Nice that you provided the two different examples. I agree with putting them on the left if there's room for them. – Samuel M Apr 25 '13 at 5:50

I would go with left side.

First of all, left side is better than right side for menus and navigation, same reasoning can be applied to filters. Reading ease, etc.

  • Left side is read first in english
  • Left side remains visible (is visible first) regardless of window width

Filters are given weight (in user's mind) depending on their element(label) width. Hence, in a top position they have an uneven feel. Whereas, when using the side for the options, this issue is not present.

Side option also lets you expand the menu list in the future without much change in the design (at most you're adding a scroll bar), whereas in the top option you're just bound in the fixed width.

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