A colleague of mine and I have had a discussion about filtering with checkboxes on one of our sites.

We use a number of checkboxes to allow the user to refine a search, by selecting their areas of interest when searching. By visiting the search page on our site, the user is given all available results after which a more refined search can be conducted.

The discussion is pertaining whether we should have all checkboxes selected when the user arrives to the page or not. We have seen examples of solutions in the wild, but cannot decide which one to use.

We have two groups of checkbox choices and they will contain approximately five to eight boxes each. One concern is that if all boxes are pre-checked it will be a cumbersome operation for the user to uncheck five or six boxes due to his or her being interested in just one or two of the choices.

Could it be considered a convention to have all results displayed when first arriving to the page with no boxes ticked, and then just checking the ones one want to see in the search result?

4 Answers 4


Yes, its a convention. If you take a look at big and heavy traffic sites like Amazon or Ebay, you will see this behaviour. You see everything of a list unless you start filtering by checking a filter option. And no filter is preselected/checked at start.

Make sure not to forget a clear filters option. At some point you could filter so heavily, that no product could match your choice. And its good style to always showing active filters, in case you work with collapsing areas.

Here is a good article, which explains filter and faceted search patterns.

Screenshot of Amazon search result

Screenshot of Etsy search result

Screenshot of eBay search result


This is precisely the reason that most of these searches are actually filters. For a search, you select the elements that you want included, and the results show elements that match with this. Filtering means that from the entire list, you define what you are interested in, and entries that do not match are removed. Each element defaults to "all entries" - which may or may not be a selecteble option.

If you have this along with a clear ( as @FrankL mentioned ), then the challenge of getting to the right products should be manageable. However, it is also important to make sure that normal or usual filters are simple enough to select - this will be very dependent on the products and the users. So, for example, if there are multiple price groups, it may be worth have an "or above" and/or "or below" option, which selects all relevant boxes.

As so often, there is not a single right answer, as it will depend on your precise requirements.

  • Really insightful! I'll take this into consideration. We do have one group where the "all above/below" option might be handy. Also the clear button seems to be a good idea.
    – dotmartin
    Jan 20, 2012 at 15:15

May be you might want to consider using faceted navigation which features an integrated, incremental search and browse experience that lets users begin with a classic keyword search and then scan a list of results. Currently, i am also working on designing a search screen by leveraging faceted navigation model for my interface. I am having around 50 search criteria and am in the process of simplifying the screen. Here is the quick tips you can use while designing

  • Allow flexible navigation
  • Provide previews of next steps
  • Organizeresults in a meaningful way Support both expanding and refining the search
  • Use the metadata to show where to go next Help users see and return to previous steps
  • make label short
  • provide undo feature
  • show frequently used facets for each set and have the remaining to show through a expand list or a modal window

Some Resources:






Podcast from IA Summit 2010 for search and browse


  • This is sort of what I am aiming at, though I did not have the term for it. Nice couple of links! However the @FrankL addressed my question more direct, but I have definitively learned a whole lot from your answer. Thanks!
    – dotmartin
    Jan 23, 2012 at 8:42

Perhaps I am alone in this thinking, but wouldn't it be best to simply have a "select all/select none" button? Not only is that a common enough convention, it means you can have "select all" by default and an easy way for the user to limit his fields to only one or two (or return to "all" if necessary).

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