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I have a question about when (if at all?) to include an action button to trigger the selecting of an item in a drop-down list for these 3 scenarios:

Scenario 1 - I have ONE drop-down list that is used to filter a list of documents shown below it (e.g. it filters the document type). Should this drop-down list have a 'Filter' action button next to it which triggers the filtering? Or should the filtering happen automatically when the user selects an item from the drop-down list?

Scenario 2 - I have have TWO drop-down lists that both act as filters to a single list of document (e.g. one filters on document type, the other on year of publishing). Should there be an action button to trigger the filtering or should it happen automatically when the user selects an item in either drop-down?

Scenario 3 - I have a drop-down list (e.g. country selector) that a user can select to navigate to a separate page for that country. Should there be a 'Go' action button that triggers the navigating or should it happen automatically when the user selects an item from the drop-down list?

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In the past drop down lists often required a user action after the selection (e.g. click the "Filter" button) to initiate an action. These days users are generally much more experienced with computers and the extra user action is often considered superfluous. So in the case of a single drop down list I think in most cases the extra button click to initiate the action is unnecessary extra work on the part of the user.

But in your scenario #2, with 2 drop down lists to provide the input, I would consider adding the extra button click step to initiate action. You have to look at use cases. If the common case is to change both lists' selection, then extra button click step might make sense. If the common case is to just change one list's selection, then the extra button click step might be superfluous.

So my guess is in cases 1 & 3, no action button. In case 2, maybe an action button.

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General rule: You should use a separate button when the action is disruptive or destructive.

  • Disruptive actions - if filtering can take a long time (anything above approx. 0.3 seconds is clearly noticable, anything above 1 sec is just annoying), you aren't doing your user a favor by saving him the click on "Go". If the filtering process can be interrupted and restarted by further input (and your UI conveys that fact) you're fine.

  • Destructive actions - if it is hard (or even impossible) to go back to the previous state, you probably want extra confirmation from the user.

If your filtering is done in the background, you can do without the "Go" button in scenarios 1 and 2. With scenario 3 it is a bit hard to tell how easy it is to go "back" in your system, but you're probably better off with a separate button. If you have a system where that drop-down stays visible after going to the new page, you can do without a separate button.

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Personally, I think that scenario 1 & 2 would really depend on the location of the filter area on the page and whether or the the dataset being filtered was using background processing (an Ajax request). I would say that if the dataset is going to require a page refresh that might relocate the filter settings (because the user has scrolled down the page to reach it, for example) than you probably want to include an action button. If the dataset is adjusting through an Ajax request I'm less inclined to place filter buttons because the actions are roughly immediate and the UI itself is changing positions.

As for scenario 3, I would think that a single drop down is fine without a button, but I would probably inquire why a drop down would be used at all. Are there really so many country choices that it deems a selection list to go to the next page? Just something to think about. If it's a list of 5-7 why not just a list of links? If the list is long in this case I'd say it's probably okay, but again, I'd inquire to the reasoning.

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