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I'm by no means a UX expert or a Designer for that matter. But I've come up with a doubt about a UX decision made by my manager and what should be the best practice for the case, based on a recent call from a client that was confused by the behavior that it imposed.

Our product makes heavy use of filtering capable datatables with a filter-per-column strategy. A few of these handle large datasets and have date range constraints. Thus creating a situation where not all filtering options have available results at a time.

Coming from this problem, our manager has come up with the ideal that the client must be 'protected' from this values that are not 'valid', and that at any time the filtering options must have results to show.

I'm my opinion, and probably the confused user that called me, that shouldn't be the case, and the user should have all its options available at any time, even it that means they will at some time have no results from their filters.

(not even considering the overhead this causes from pre-processing of the resulting dataset to extract the possible filtering options)

Thanks. And I'm eager to read your point of view on this.

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I wouldn't recommend removing perfectly valid filter options only because the result set would be empty. One important principle of usability is feedback; the user should know what state the system is in and why (additional read: Visibility of System Status).

Removing filter options doesn't communicate the state to the user, as they wouldn't know why that option isn't available. Maybe it hasn't been implemented? Maybe there's an error? What if the user used that option before and now it's not available any more. This leaves the user frustrated as they don't know what exactly the state of the system is here and how to recover from it.

That being said, there are several strategies to deal with your problem. The hotel recommendation engine Trivago, for example, tells you that no results match your search and even tells you how to continue from there: You could remove some filters or check other suggestions (that of course don't match the filter settings exactly). Trivago-Screenshot

Another example is Amazon; here filter options that would lead to an empty result set are disabled. Therefore the user still knows that these options are basically available, even though the can't be selected right now. They don't express it as explicitly as Trivago, but it still should be fairly clear how to proceed from there.

Amazon-Screenshot

  • Thank you for taking the time to answer. I agree with what you brought up. And idea of disabling the options are great (haven't really thought of that). But give it a moment to think that these filter options are tightly related to the user (their own clients) and very well known to them, and this contributes to the confusion created by hiding these values when their selection would return empty results. The User is possibly get by surprise thinking there was an error or inconsistency on the system (my point of view..) – Israel Merljak Oct 1 at 18:44
  • Yes, I agree. That's why I said that removing filter options completely isn't a good idea. Especially when they perfectly know that a certain option should be available, they would wonder why it's gone... – QWERTZdenker Oct 2 at 8:00
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Im reading this as: - Your boss thinks no data should show if there are no valid results. - You and the user think everything should always show even if there are no valid results?

I would say, no matter what, if no results come up for a user's query, it should be clear that nothing was returned. Otherwise that will definitely lead to confusion.

Example: A user looks something up something specific like "cats in California". If nothing comes up, you should indicate "No results found". HOWEVER, I have seen some people put very clearly "No results" but then add a bar /some type of divider on the page under that. Then they add all the results or potentially related results /alternatives. The idea is kind of like a marketing tactic. You are saying, "hey we don't have this, but maybe you'll want to look at this."

Keep in mind that there is a textual and visual component to the example. We have the text that says no results came back. But visually, we are separating that from other things we are offering the user using a page divider. That way, for the people that don't see the text, there is a visual distinction.

But if you aren't trying to do all that, I'd definitely go with not showing anything if nothing comes back from a specific query.

  • Yes, I get what you're saying. Although my problem is more related to what @QWERTZdenker answered, My problem isn't really giving feedback to the User that there are no results (that's already done..), but making it impossible for the user to select perfectly valid filtering options (since they aren't visible) based on the results available with the premise that they wouldn't like/want to see an empty result (which I think, leads to confusion at the very least). – Israel Merljak Oct 1 at 18:39

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