Below are Mock-ups of the two choices to scope the search. The radio buttons would expose all choices initially. The drop-down search pattern I've seen more often, and I think users would be more familiar with it.


download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

  • 5
    Think we need a little text to provide just a bit of context and also so that this question is searchable... Commented Jun 27, 2012 at 13:14
  • IMHO: It depends more on the number of options. Drop-down can more comfortably support a larger number of options, but is a nuisance when it becomes an extra step to see what your only 2 or 3 options are. However that said, dynamic context would be first prize. ;) Commented Jun 27, 2012 at 17:23
  • I agree with @LisaTweedie: - How many options are there to choose from? Only two? What type of site is this? What do you know about your users? Commented Jun 27, 2012 at 17:23

4 Answers 4


I think you should put them under "Advanced" search options. By default, you should search both options without forcing the user to choose either one (or select one from many). A good example is Google, there's one text field and a"search" button, that's it... advanced users can drill down themselves.


Keep it simple, make the search parse both datasets simultaneously and use a single input


download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

  • Indeed. Besides, it should be easy to figure out if the input represents an SSN or not anyway.
    – André
    Commented Jun 28, 2012 at 5:22

Dropdowns with just two values are an abomination (unto Nielsen). It's pretty hard to think of a use case where they would be justified. It is extremely frustrating to open a dropdown just to see that there's one more value in it. The reason you're usually seeing dropdowns in these contexts is that usually you have more than two options.

EDIT OK, it just occurred to me that maybe you didn't mean that there's only two options. In that case a good rule of thumb is to have a dropdown for 4 or more values. With three you can do it in either way, if you can arrange the layout for the radio buttons (it may be challenging).


If you only have these two options then this could be one way to do it (with the limited amount of context available). It mimics airline flight check-in forms I've seen.

The rationale I used: Give the user custom fields for each input type so they are less prone to making mistakes. For the SSN field it is also important to look "grown up" so that people trust you (unless they already completely trust your brand)


download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

Instead of tabs you could also use radio buttons, if you wanted to.

  • Please don't abuse radio buttons to switch pages like you are proposing.
    – André
    Commented Jun 28, 2012 at 5:20
  • Too complex, classic image is appropriate to rembmber noisydecentgraphics.typepad.com/design/images/2008/03/11/… :) Commented Jun 28, 2012 at 9:13
  • @André, the radio buttons are not recommended and if used should not switch "pages", but simply toggle the input field. There are many more ways than tabs and radio buttons to toggle these fields. My idea of using tabs might not be the best :) Commented Jun 28, 2012 at 16:19
  • @ADOConnection, I agree, I think that even a simple search would also work. But that was already suggested and the question provided little context, so this was simply another alternative for the question author to consider :) Commented Jun 28, 2012 at 16:20

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