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I'm adding a dropdown list to a table header to enable configuration of what appears in the column.

enter image description here

My problem is that the traditional down-arrow symbol for a dropdown can easily be confused with an arrow symbol for sorting the column.

Are there any alternative symbols which signify a dropdown box? Or any alternative solutions?

  • Hey, could you provide an image which shows the state where you configurate whats displayed in the table below? I think that would make things a little bit clearer. As for now i would try to use a simple 'wrench'-icon. Still the icon would not signify that a dropdown will appear but would signifiy that there are additional options for that column. I think you shouldn't focus on what ui element is displayed next and more on what the user has to expect when he tries to interact whith that specific button. – luQ Oct 11 '16 at 9:56
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It depends what purpose the menu serves.

If it's just for changing the way the data is filtered in the table then you could try a filter icon:

Filters icon

If the contents are more related to the way the table behaves then you could consider a settings icon:

Settings Icon

Or, failing these you could also try a hamburger to indicate a menu:

Hamburger Menu Icon

Or settings sliders:

Sliders Icon

  • Thanks! Have taken the liberty of adding the one I actually went with ... was having a mental block there for a while but a browse of an icon library sorted me out! – EoghanM Oct 11 '16 at 10:44
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Liked the answer from @AndrewMartin and I do feel his suggestions to be the best option for a clean interface (simply changing the symbol).

As an alternative, if you do need to make it obvious that the header is a combobox (or any other input widget) you can consider changing the rendering to look like an input:

Changing header rendering in table

However, notice that this works because its distracting. It contrasts from the rest of the table to give the user an obvious media that assumes possible interaction and input. Its far less beneficial for other purposes.

This is common for work tools where people expect less aesthetics and more productivity enhancement, but I think it would be a bad idea for a simple listing or publishing tool (where the less distractions the better; the purpose is just "reading" the table).

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