Currently in our application we have multiple lists of checkboxes. These lists comprise of random attributes related to a company. Each company will only perform a couple of these attributes and it is the user's job to specify which of these attributes the company will perform.

Right now I feel that from a usability perspective and even a design perspective a list of checkboxes is not the best way to go. My second option is to have a multi-value select box so that when the user starts to type there is an autocomplete box and all the user has to do is hit enter to select the value. I am not sure if either is the most usable way to go and I was curious to see what everyone else out there thought?

checkbox select box

3 Answers 3


Is there a way of grouping some of the attributes into categories?

If so you could then either have each category have a drop down or each category could have a separate area on the form (this could be one after another, with a slightly different background colour simply bordered off from the others).

If you aren't able to group them into categories, I would sort the list alphabetically and then give each attribute some extra lineheight/padding so that its clearly readable.

  • unfortunately the attributes listed and so widespread that it would be difficult to categorize them without having to many categories. Commented Apr 17, 2013 at 15:35
  • if thats the case, then I would alphabetize the list then give each attribute some extra lineheight/padding so that its clearly readable
    – MephistonX
    Commented Apr 17, 2013 at 15:39
  • 1
    @MephistonX I've added your comment to the answer, which improves it.
    – JohnGB
    Commented Apr 17, 2013 at 16:22
  • @Jason how about having broader categories if there are too many?
    – uxzapper
    Commented Apr 17, 2013 at 22:09

Check box lists would be the answer; based on Microsoft guideline for desktop app which you could use it for web app somehow:

Standard multiple-selection lists have exactly the same appearance as single-selection lists, so there is no visual clue that a list box supports multiple selection. Because users have to discover this ability, this list pattern is best used for tasks where multiple selection isn't essential and is rarely used. There are two different multiple-selection modes: multiple and extended. Extended selection mode is by far the more common, where the selection can be extended by dragging or with Shift+click and Ctrl+click to select groups of contiguous and non-adjacent values, respectively. In the multiple-selection mode, clicking any item toggles its selection state regardless of the Shift and Ctrl keys. Given this unusual behavior, multiple-selection mode is deprecated and you should use check box lists instead. enter image description here

Unlike standard multiple-selection lists, the check boxes clearly indicate that multiple selection is possible. Use this list pattern for tasks where multiple selection is essential or commonly used. enter image description here

In this example, users typically select more than one item so a check box list is used. Given this clear indication of multiple selection, you might assume that check box lists are preferable to standard multiple-selection lists. In practice, few tasks require multiple selection or use it heavily; using a check box list in such cases draws too much attention to selection. Consequently, standard multiple-selection lists are far more common.

  • I do like the reference to Microsoft's standards, as I'm working with a similar problem. I do however believe that users need to be instructed in using the CTRL key for multi-selection. Commented Apr 18, 2017 at 14:52

In the multi-value select box users need to know how to write the attribute. If your system users know this information, it can be a good option. However if there is some ambiguity in which attributes are available or how are they written, I think another approximation would be better.

If you feel that there are too many attributes to use checkboxes, I think you could use a more familiar pattern like the two lists selection: one list has all the attributes available (that can be filtered, searched, etc.) and another list contains selected attributes. Users can select one or more attributes from the first list and add them to the second one.

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