We have a website with a large application containing several drop-down lists on several different pages of the app. They are not all the same - some are country selections, some are name, some are days etc. At the moment there is no consistency on how they work and I want to know if there is a 'best practice' I can put into place.

At the moment some of the drop-down list have incremental searching, some have first letter only, some have nothing, some allow you to type in the box - some don't, some allow you to click in the box, backspace and this deletes all text and so on.

  • This is a website... which means that you are dealing with the browser's implementation of a drop down typically. How are you customizing the controls? Are you using javascript? Flash? Java? ActiveX? Are you simply using a variety of the built in HTML controls? May 2, 2012 at 0:00
  • 2
    A better question... could you provide cropped screenshots of some of the controls (as long as they don't contain private information)? I'm a bit puzzled because, for example, the web has no way to do a combo-box natively (where you can type arbitrary text to filter a selection from a dropdown), but it sounds like your site has that. May 2, 2012 at 0:02
  • Allison now has 10 rep, so posting images shouldn't be a problem.
    – user4662
    May 2, 2012 at 0:46
  • I'm assuming that making them all consistent isn't an option? May 2, 2012 at 18:13
  • @fitzgeraldsteele I think that's what she wants to do, but she wants to be able to quote best practice, rather than imposing an arbitrary standard.
    – gkrogers
    May 3, 2012 at 0:18

2 Answers 2


Here are some Microsoft guidelines for drop-down lists and combo boxes. They cover which control style to use (drop-down list, combo box, listbox, etc), presentation, behaviour, default values, sizing and spacing, labels, etc., etc.

Also, see this question about a specific aspect of dropdown list and combox box design - sentinel values ("all", "none", etc.)

This book is an excellent source of good UI design advice - you could do a lot worse than incorporate it by reference into any design guidelines you implement.

Finally, here are some more Microsoft UI guidelines: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/aa511279.aspx


If the controls have different behavior, then they should have visual affordances that suggest the differences. For example, if a drop down list allows typing to navigate items in the list, it should look like a data entry field. Conversely, if this behavior is not supported, if should not look like a combo box.

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