In the thread on GUI Design - ComboBoxes Versus Lists or RadioButtons and Dropdown vs radio button, I've read about comboboxes vs. radio button groups. In our legacy application, we also use lookup lists a lot:


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It is a button next to a textfield, which launches a popup where the user can search for some value and select it. When is this kind of choice-selection appropriate? We use it quite a lot and I don't know if we should. It is sometimes used, even for only four choices?

2 Answers 2


There are some good implementations of a select list being expressed as a drop-down menu with type-ahead filtering available now, which accomplishes the same thing without imposing a pop-up.

The pop-up has the additional cognitive load of "how do I get rid of this?" (answered as "use the [select] or [cancel] buttons), as well as the additional effort load of actually doing so. With type-ahead-drop-down you simply select the value, while here you click a button, click an option, click a button.

I also suspect there's also a possibility of disrupting the user's short term memory, what with the imposed context switch. See Walking through doorways causes forgetting: Situation models and experienced space. Radvansky, Copeland; 2006 and Walking through doorways causes forgetting: Further explorations. Radvansky, Krawietza, Tamplina; 2011. I'd really like to see some UX research done on whether the same effect occurs with pop-ups/lightboxes/etc.


I think it is OK, even for short lists:

  • It promotes consistency: no surprise when you click on the button, you will always get the same. It develops automatisms of usage, without having to aim for a component that can vary depending on the content of the list.
  • Short lists are OK, and even better: you can see at a glance all elements. The search field is then a bit redundant, but nobody forces the user to use it.
  • It is non-obtrusive, popping out when needed, going away after usage.
  • Indeed, I don't think this is a less good alternative. The only thing is that it is used along with radio button groups and comboboxes, there is not a guideline for it now. What is better used in some cases? In one form, we have now a combination of radio buttons, comboboxes and this alternative. Is it just enough to choose one or can we set some kind of guidelines?
    – Kim
    Dec 20, 2012 at 15:46
  • Your component is a good substitute to combo boxes: scrolling might be easier, the find field is good for lot of entries. Radio buttons get an advantage: when there are few choices (say up to 5), they allow to see at a glance what are the alternatives.
    – PhiLho
    Dec 20, 2012 at 16:23
  • I would thus keep only radio buttons for the reason above, and your component, and make a rule / guideline to indicate when to use one instead of the other.
    – PhiLho
    Dec 20, 2012 at 16:24

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