I'm working on an application where i m searching on 3 categories(All,people, company) and showing results in separate tables for all the above categories.

here are the business cases:

  1. if records available in every category show 2 grids with results

  2. if records available in 1 category show 1 grid and don't show any message for other categories which i think is bad practice.

But there is another case that my user is well trained and they know the behavior of the screen. And in future there could be n number of categories so showing message for each category doesn't make any sense.

And I'm confused: should I show message or not, I need some advice.

  • I think it depends a little bit on how exactly you present the search results. Would it be possible to add a mockup for that? Commented Oct 18, 2012 at 6:33
  • just refined and added link for screen.@Benny, I think it is not duplicate as my prob is different
    – UXbychoice
    Commented Oct 18, 2012 at 6:42
  • Not a duplicate. If I read this correctly, this isn't about forbidden actions, this is about alerting the user that no results were returned.
    – kastark
    Commented Oct 18, 2012 at 13:27

3 Answers 3


In Windows, if I search for files named "test" on my harddrive and I choose to group the search results by type, I get a result like this:

enter image description here

I think this concept would fit your problem too. In this solution you don't show the group header for groups that are empty. However, in this case the amount of groups is simply unlimited, and the actual groups that exist depend exactly on the search results. In your case, it is limited to 3 at this moment, in which case you could perfectly show the empty groups as well.

As far as the future is concerned: you say that there can be n categories. Is this n still a limited and fixed number? If yes, you can show the empty groups, if not, don't show empty groups.

  • i think categories would be 5-6 But i agree with you that we must show some error message that data is not available for that category but my Product manager doesn't want to implement it.. this is what he said :our user is very trained user(applcation would be used in banks where user will use application whole day) so there is no point to show error msg :P
    – UXbychoice
    Commented Oct 18, 2012 at 6:50
  • Altough I am in favour of not showing unnecessary information, I would still ask him this open question: what is the added value of hiding empty groups? Commented Oct 18, 2012 at 7:10
  • may i ask why you are in favor of not showing data? as your previous comment is conflicting with your recent one?
    – UXbychoice
    Commented Oct 18, 2012 at 7:18
  • I did not say that. I do think it is good not to show unnecessary information. The question is: is this such a case? Is showing that a group is empty unnecessary? I cannot judge that. I think that this may very well be a case where showing that a group is empty is actually necessary. It will show the user that those groups have been searched, but contain no results. Since your Product Manager is already convinced it should not be shown, I propose to turn things around. Ask him what the added value is of hiding empty groups. Possible he has simply not looked at it that way. Commented Oct 18, 2012 at 7:24
  • +1 I think this would be a pretty good approach. Especially enabling the feature to expand/collapse when there are a number of categories to display. Commented Oct 18, 2012 at 8:17

I'm building on to Gijssens answer, which layout wise I think is pretty good.

However, regarding what sounds to be your main question, whether or not empty grids (or some other feedback) should be shown for categories with no matching result.

I'm gonna let you answer that question yourself. What does it look like when a user has one category selected and the search results in zero results for that category? I guess you have an established strategy for this scenario? Do you display an empty table with the category header? Or perhaps display a label saying eg: No matches for 'XXX' when searching in 'Country'. I would assume that you have some strategy for telling the user that no matches has been found when searching in one single category.

In any case, to withhold consistency, the same strategy should be used for categories with no search results when searching in multiple categories. Argue this point with your manager, which hopefully also is along the lines of how you want to see it solved. And if not, then a bummer for you.


Ive found some issues in some of the concepts you are using. Some of the issues:

Give default results. So that the first time a user comes to this list could see ALL the latest records in the results.

Let the people browse first, then filter and then search. Let the people browse first and scroll down, then let them order the results just clicking on the column to sort ASC or DESC. Then filter using drop downs and last but not least, search. So the order in the layout of the page should be:

  1. TABLE with default last records

  2. ASC DESC arrows to sort results.

  3. Below the table display filters with dropdowns to refine the search.
  4. Below Filters let the users search.

Given this 4 points lets see the UX perspective of the users effort:

  1. SCROLL DOWN FIRST: no effort for the users as they use mouse wheel to scroll down and scan the results
  2. CLICK on ASC DESC arrows later: order resutls with just 1 click is really easy for users
  3. DROPDOWNS to filter results at the end: its not the best user experience for normal users but is still usefull
  4. TYPE AND SEARCH the last thing: users definetely dont like to type and click and then scan through a list of results, too many hassle too many effort for them so try to hide this search boxes below the fold.

Another issue. No results doesnt means that is an error! You just have to inform to the user that the system couldnt find any results for the query you are looking for, but this is not an error is just an INFORMATIVE message in BLUE COLOUR which is not bad to communicate to the user...

  • Hi Victor,i defer with the solution you offered as showing unnecessary records also put burden on user's shoulder. Why you want user to scroll, filter, search (3 actions) when he can simply get results through search(1 action)? and i agree with the blue color info msg though.
    – UXbychoice
    Commented Oct 18, 2012 at 9:31
  • It all depends on the users that are going to use the feature. For admins search is ok, for intranet users could be fine but search feature for web users is not that good. In web you will never know who your users are, so you have to DESIGN FOR ALL which means definetely that people in all websites love to browse cause it requires less effort than searching. So its only a matter of user types, if you go for web give less proninence to search and filter, if this is going for intranet users or admins then filters and search is fine.
    – Vistol
    Commented Oct 18, 2012 at 10:02
  • this application is for intranet user
    – UXbychoice
    Commented Oct 18, 2012 at 10:52
  • Use defaults to make life easier to the poor intranet users. Think about this: What are the users coming to this page expecting to see? If you have the right answer you can define a default sorting for the first time a user comes to this page...
    – Vistol
    Commented Oct 18, 2012 at 12:36

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