App has a simple search interface that currently uses AND logic for multiple criteria (only shows results that match all). We need to add an option to toggle between searching AND or OR (where multiple criteria would return file results with any of them, with those with more than one criteria rank higher).

What's the best way to simply expose this choice? Anything closer to typical advanced searches would be too complex for most of our users. The product lets you search for multiple criteria/labels besides just basic free text, so "exact phrase/word" logic isn't the best fit either.

Best idea so far is an on/off toggle or checkbox for "Only show overlapping results" but I can't find any similar examples... is this bad UX?

Thanks in advance!

  • 2
    Can you add some more context? There's a ton of great UI patterns to swap and/or, but they'll only work if it makes sense to the user. What is the user searching for? Is there a need for granular precision? How many results usually get returned for the keyword entry? Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 1:48

3 Answers 3


Boolean search is not conceptually simple, Nielsen Norman Group has some great reports on web search UX that suggest advanced search is where any parameters like AND/OR belong. The optional logic is really for more advanced users with a more advanced job to be done.

This question about intuitive interfaces for composing Boolean logic illustrates what I mean. All the most well-received examples are elegant and appropriately complex to match the conceptual complexity. They don’t try to simplify what is not really that simple.

“Show overlapping results” doesn’t sound familiar to me. Will your users know what that means? A checkbox is a simple enough form control but if the label defies instant comprehension, not sure what you gain.

My point is that anything beyond a text field and a search button qualifies as “Advanced.”

That said, I think I’ve seen a few decent examples of advanced search in practice. In a previous gig, I did a lot of social media research on forums. I found that the modest search form gave me just enough to:

  • Scope my searches within a certain time frame
  • Specify “all” or “any” for search terms in the query
  • Format my results for brevity

AgTalk Forums Search

I used that search feature again and again to successfully dig up really specific topics of discussion, and I never really found myself longing for Boolean operators.

Everyone is different. Do what’s best for your users based on careful study of their needs, but my suggestion is if you want to keep it simple try to avoid exposing AND/OR altogether.


I think visual icons based on venn diagrams might express it best for non technical users.

I like this explanation from these guys which explains it well https://sru.libguides.com/c.php?g=531853&p=4062768

Here is a diagram that summarises their description (in case the link dies later)

venn diagrams of boolean operators

There is stacks of academic research (way before Norman/Nielsen started their consultancy) to show that people struggle with the words AND and OR (I do too and I have been in this field for over 30 years).

A visual icon provides a great reminder of what you are actually doing.

Something like this is what I have in mind: Balsamiq design of the venn diagram idea

In terms of very untechnically savvy users I find the UK government design guidelines very good on how to design very simple systems that any user can cope with. They have done considerable user research to back up their patterns and components. So that is worth a look too. Although I couldn't find anything on search there.



check out the video at minute marker 17. i helped design it a few years ago. good luck!


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.