[Edit]:This question is asked to handle a specific design issue. Although it is mainly related to the post I am sharing below, it is not meant to generally differentiate between Filtering and Searching but to use the concept in practice. The answer below by @KK although good, it assumes a fact that when no data is displayed then the user is searching, when data is displayed then user is filtering. If that is a fact to draw conclusion upon, then the answer to my question = Filtering. [End of Edit]

In a web-based application, a page displays information in a table format (random data displayed in the table). The table could have hundreds of records. Two ways are provided to filter/limit/refine/search the results in the table:

(1)- A single select drop-down list (Filter by Type) with the Types available (there are less than 10 types in the system). When the user selects a Type from the list, results will only be the records with the Type the user selected. So I know I am filtering here (I am providing the filter which in this case = Type). For example: If I select "Accounting" from the list, only records with the Type = Accounting will be displayed.

(2)- A text-box where the user is advised to enter either a Director name or a Year, and results are displayed based on the user's entry (see example below). If user enters "41" only, then the results will be every record that contains the number "41" under Director or Year columns. This text-box will only look at values under the Director and Year columns.

The irony is that I answered a question (Filtering vs Searching) thinking I have good enough knowledge in regard. However, I am still confused about it in this specific design.

So am I Filtering or Searching in the Text-box? Should the Placeholder (or if replaced by a Label) say "Filter by..." or "Search by..."?

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  • This question is actually pretty well answered in the question you linked. To use the answer @KK references, you can ask yourself "does my design present the user with an existing list and has them filter out items to focus on what they're looking for, or is it starting from nothing and collecting matches?" – maxathousand Mar 16 '18 at 15:17
  • The drop down list is definitely a filtering option (I am stating that in the post [point #1]). What confuses me is the text-box where user has no options to select from (simply a text-box) to enter a text. Knowing that the code looks for a match in the Director and Year columns, I provided the placeholder as a guidance to enter either a director name or a year. So user is not selecting, at the same time is limited by these two columns. – Mo'ath Mar 16 '18 at 16:05
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    The difference between filtering and searching is not based on how the user poses their query—it has to do with what the user sees with no query applied. Essentially what the answer @KK points to says is: if (no user query && all items shown) type = 'Filtering' else if (no user query && no items shown) type = 'Searching'. It looks like this UI shows all results when no query is applied, so these are tools for the user to narrow down the results => filtering. – maxathousand Mar 16 '18 at 16:14
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    To put it another way: you search when the thing you're looking for is not right in front of you; you filter when there are too many things right in front of you. – maxathousand Mar 16 '18 at 16:18
  • Sounds good. Based on the answer that @KK posted yes that is true. But is this answer a fact to draw our conclusion upon? Can I factually say that the way to differentiate filtering vs searching is based on what is currently displayed? I got confused because every time I check a reference to the filtering process, I see filters provided as options to choose from [e.g. Prime on Amazon, Brand, Color...etc]. I do not see it as a free-form text-box. If we assume that KK answer is a fact then yes it is 100% a filtering option. – Mo'ath Mar 16 '18 at 16:27

The answer lies in the top answer to the post you have shared: https://ux.stackexchange.com/a/4756/48205

  • Filtering takes an existing full list, and removes items based on criteria that match/don't match.
  • Search takes a blank slate and adds to it based on criteria that match/don't match.
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  • This a good short answer. However, it does not fully satisfy my confusion. (I saw this answer on the post I shared). This answer is based on what is displayed. If this answer is a fact then yes the text-box is a filtering option not searching. Please see comments above. – Mo'ath Mar 16 '18 at 16:29

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