Problem: I'm trying to display a search filter to the user that deals with groups of required fields. (as we are searching 8 different databases with 8 sets of different required fields). I want the search filter to be simple, but also tell the user that if they put in a name, they also have to put in a DoB. Conversley, if they put in a reference number, they also have to put in an address. So the group of required fields might change depending on what info the user starts entering.

Constraints: No possibility to combine the datasets or align the required fields for each database.

So I'm wondering if this has to be an 'OR' pattern search for each group of required fields. i.e. user chooses to search the first box (containing first name, last name and DoB) OR they choose to search next box (containing first name, reference number and address)

Ideally I'd like it all in one search box, but with different groups of required fields I'm wondering how to indicate this?


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3 Answers 3


It's a pretty common pattern to split them, especially on checkouts and account areas on ecommerce sites. enter image description here enter image description here

From past A/B tests I'd advise to stay away from complicating forms with radio buttons and forms changing as the user changes certain values, having two separate forms is a pretty clean and simple way to achieve what you need.

That being said you do have a common field on both forms, so it is worth considering that a user may type that in on one form and realise they are on the wrong form and have to type it in again. Perhaps the split should just be on the other fields leaving person type global to both.

  • True, and this is my concern, that users may have to retype, also as some of the optional fields will be the same (for each set there are a few optional fields if they can't get a unique match based on just the required fields)
    – Redhaus4
    Commented Apr 23, 2014 at 23:38

Defining the scope of the search is a very common task, available on most sites and apps with a number of different searchable categories. This is the standard approach:

enter image description here

The only difference in your case is that you have a number of fields dependent on the selection in the dropdown, instead of a single field.

So something like this could work:


download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

  • True, it is common, but I guess I was trying to avoid the user having to decipher the IA of the site, and give them the simplicity of just searching based on the info they have. Your mockup however would work, but the 'Search by' field would have to be the database they are searching in, and thereby we air our dirty laundry, so to speack, as to how we have organised the IA.
    – Redhaus4
    Commented Apr 23, 2014 at 23:42

Would prepending something like tabs or radios or anything similar that is easy to togggle work for you?

Search based on/Search accroding to:

  1. address
  2. name

Philosophical mentoring note (see the self-sarcasm?) It's somehow always a balancing act of speed (how often you do this - login form used once a day vs. search field that you use 20 times in an hour), whether you expect users will prefer one option over the other (jumping with a mouse from one form to another might be not fancy interaction too), how big screen you have (or whether you need to place something else around it), how tight you're on time for developing it. The fun of creating things for people!

  • Possibly, I was thinking of adding a toggle/button for which one they want to use, wondered if that might just make it another interaction that is of little value...
    – Redhaus4
    Commented Apr 23, 2014 at 23:39

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