There is a design with several drop downs to select between multiple choices.

These choices work as filters on a large dataset. When you select one of them, only the records matching the selection will be displayed.

The first choice is always "all", meaning that you don't care about that particular category.

The problem is that when translated, for languages that have gender, the translation is different depending on the gender of the category, and it's difficult for the translation engine to provide an accurate translation.

So, we want to convey this meaning using a language independent symbology. Right now we have a combination of lines and a star:


But I am not sure this design is the best one to convey the meaning.

What are some symbols that could be used for this purpose? (Any Unicode symbol can be used.)

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    What would be the aria label for the symbols? – C'est Moi May 19 '20 at 23:21
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    The best way of solving this problem would be A/B Testing. Considering the current situation, have some remote interviews with some of your potential users. They would easily be able to help you out here, I would say. We here can only guess since you didn't even provide any information related to your user base and all; hence, we might not be able to provide the best solution. – onosecond May 20 '20 at 3:42
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    Others' suggestion convey "absence of choice" is probably for the best. A symbol to convey "don't care", 🤷 U+1F937 Person Shrugging is not formal nor truly universal! – RickN May 20 '20 at 10:22
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    I'm confused by the mismatch between title and question body. I think there's a difference between "any" and "all" – lucidbrot May 20 '20 at 14:55
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    Use words. Why do you assume that a star would convey the meaning "all"? Unless you're thinking that the user is familiar with the language of regular expressions, and somehow realizes that your star is really supposed to be an asterisk? – jamesqf May 20 '20 at 17:00

13 Answers 13


If you're trying to convey "this criteria doesn't matter", simply leaving it blank is probably the best option. This used to be a very common pattern in "advanced" search dialogs, until application designers collectively decided that fancy search options were not something users needed.

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    Not literally blank but something like "---", just so it's clear what it means. – Big_Chair May 20 '20 at 7:23
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    The answer to the title is *, but the answer to the body of your question is definitely blank. It's a filter, and you want to not filter on this criterion, i.e. no filter, blank. – OJFord May 20 '20 at 16:10
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    A single hyphen (-) is likely best rather than leaving it entirely blank. – Keavon May 21 '20 at 0:46
  • The subjectivity of clear what it means makes this un-clear. Nothing is clear unless it's universally understood, even language doesn't go this far. The lack of anything is the most universally clear method to denote nothing or possibly everything. <-- even here you can see it is ambiguous. – David Barker May 22 '20 at 13:28
  • careful with things like radio buttons, though, where you'll need to add a way to clear the selection once it's been made. – Woodrow Barlow May 22 '20 at 17:54

I think the closest thing to a universal symbol would simply be *, which is used as a wildcard character in many operating systems and applications. It might not be recognized by every end user, but it is certainly more understandable than what you have now.

There is also the option of leaving the field blank, implying no filter will be applied.

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    @vals I think it’s too decorated to keep the original meaning... * and ⭐️ are not the same. I didn’t even make the connection – Tim May 20 '20 at 11:06
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    Unless the users are programmers, I don't think they'd recognize this idiom. – Barmar May 20 '20 at 13:52
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    An asterisk will make sense to programmers. A ⭐️ will make sense to nobody. – Keavon May 21 '20 at 0:48
  • @Barmar or at least command-line users (a marginally bigger group probably) – Chris H May 21 '20 at 9:57
  • @Chris H I would argue it applies to even more than command-line users or programmers. I think anyone that has done an advanced searched on nearly any platform (from the top of my head, I know I've used it for searches with Google, ADP, Atlassian products, and ADP) is familiar with the * wild card character. The relevance of this obviously depends on OP's end-user demographic, but I think it's enough of a standard to be considered a reasonable choice. – Joe_P May 21 '20 at 12:22

I assume there is no universal accepted symbol for "All". So, I would either return to text or use a slider like the price sliders on e-commerce websites or have the options shown as a list with checkbox depending on how many options you have on that element but avoid using a symbol as random as - star -

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    Funnily enough, one of the names for the universal quantifier "∀" is "for all", but there's no standard way to shorten it to just "all" so you're right that there isn't a universal accepted symbol for it. – Davy M May 21 '20 at 9:55
  • @DavyM Not so universal, I've learned it to be ⋀ (a "big" logic-and) in school ;) – ljrk May 21 '20 at 11:42
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    @larkey "universal quantifier" is the concept. DavyM is not saying that ∀ is the universal symbol for the universal quantifier ;) – Artelius May 22 '20 at 0:47

Assuming the site is translated through a translation engine (which is very much prone to error) instead of properly translated and localized (see this for starters), using the wrong gender for "any (shape)" or "any (size)" is a relatively minor problem. But let's just assume so and come up with a possible solution.

Is it unreasonable to have the first option read "All options" or "Any option"? That way, for languages that do use gender, the gender of "option" would be used, regardless of the gender of the thing that you're talking about in the form. However, even languages that have genders may have a non-gendered alternative, like "cualquiera" in Spanish ("un periódico cualquiera" - whatever newspaper (masculine), "una revista cualquiera" - whatever magazine (feminine)).

  • Interesting the idea about "All options". I hadn't think about it. Thanks ! – vals May 20 '20 at 9:39
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    The problem isn't just grammatical gender, though that's the more common one. There are also languages that don't have standalone words such as "all" or "none" -- instead, there are affixes that are applied to the word for the thing for which you want all or none. – Mark May 20 '20 at 20:04
  • @Mark Couldn't you apply the affix to the word for "option"? – Solomon Ucko May 22 '20 at 4:39

You could include the min and max values like

1.5 - 1.8

Then all rest of the options.

  • I like this one the most; it not only solves the problem but if it's the default selection gives the user extra info like "this product has indices ranging from 1.5 to 1.8" at a glance – Caius Jard May 22 '20 at 7:42
  • The problem here is that it can only be used if you know your search terms are orderable. If the records had a colour field which was either "red", "green" or "blue", I'm not convinced that any user would be able to intuit that "red - blue" actually meant "any colour". – ymbirtt May 22 '20 at 8:34

The problem is that when translated, for languages that have genre, the translation is different depending on the genre of the category, and it's difficult for the translation engine to provide an accurate translation.

Given problem can be solved by using variable value based on language being used by an application. Here is how android multi language apps are developed.

If not possible

simply leaving it blank is probably the best option

as said by @Mark

  • We have the later approach on the static parts of the front end, the labels for instance. The problem is that the values in the dropdown come from the back-end, and the back-end doesnt't have this posibility. We could do some aditional processing, but I would rather avoid all this if I can make it simpler. Thanks anyway – vals May 20 '20 at 9:44

I suggest you don't leave it blank and use in clear writing "Choose one" for the default option. Then, add an option (at the top of the dropdown) for "Don't use indice".

This leaves no room for ambiguity:

If the user simply encounters a blank dropdown, or "-----," they may think they have to select one of the options, which may not be true.

Instead, actually guide them to choose an option, and in one of the options telling them that they have the option to select "None," seems like the least ambiguous route here, and the clearest for users, since, even if it does add an extra step for them to confirm, it avoids confusion.

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    I think that "Choose one" has the implication that a choice must or should be made, which is not the case here. Being required to choose that you don't want a choice is, I think, poor UX. – Stephen P May 20 '20 at 18:05

I agree with some other comments here that something like --- only indicates that nothing has been selected, but doesn't indicate if something must be selected. Likewise, an asterisk * could be mistaken to indicate that the field is required.

I only have two quick ideas, neither of which is perfect:

  1. Use the infinity symbol to indicate "all", but someone could easily think that means "use the highest value possible" rather than "use all values".

  2. If the values are for a range and are in order, perhaps list the first and last with an em dash separating them, to indicate the full range: 1.5 — 1.8

It's perhaps also seeing if it would be feasible to expand your API to allow a string to be provided for this value so that a properly-gendered word could be provided. I have no idea if this is practical for your application. (And in any case, you would probably still want to fall back on a generic solution in case such a string did not get provided.)


Perhaps an empty set would work, like...



[ ]


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    The empty set will only work if the users are mathematicians. Otherwise, those brackets are just visual noise. – Mark May 21 '20 at 20:32

mathematicians use ∀ to mean "for all" You could also use ∅ (empty) implying "no filter applied)

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    Unless the users of this application are mathematicians, ∀ is a meaningless symbol, while ∅ risks being mistaken for the letter Ø. – Mark May 19 '20 at 22:11
  • As Mark says, I believe this is out of the average audience. Thanks any way – vals May 20 '20 at 9:37

If you don't have to be particularly formal, you could use some variant of:


This one is supposed to be a shrug but doesn't render well in my browser at least:




But you have to be old to understand that one...

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    More explanation required for those of us that are not that old (or pretend not to be) :p – Michael Lai May 19 '20 at 22:06
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    That only matches options with a . in them. If there's a 2 further down the list, it won't match. – Mark May 19 '20 at 22:10
  • I had think about this posibility too, but as you say I don't think that the average user will get it. (they do get the floppy disk as save, but this is another story) – vals May 20 '20 at 9:36
  • Star dot Star was the way to wildcard all files in a directory using DOS. Straight use of Star might work, but it depends on the GUI Generation understanding wildcards. Which depends on whether the target users for this are used to Command Line Interfaces. Question 1 is always 'who are the users'? – PhillipW May 20 '20 at 17:49
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    @PhillipW, these days, users with a command-line mindset are more likely to be Linux users, where *.* does not match everything. – Mark May 20 '20 at 20:06

The audience for this question is pretty high-brow. In my experience, "Concept" does not inform "assumption". Hence, the UI does need to be specifically worded. Murphys' Law

"Use words. Why do you assume that a star would convey the meaning "all"?"

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    Can you provide some suggestions of the wording for completeness of the answer? – Michael Lai May 21 '20 at 22:59

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