I have a button in my interface that when clicked shows a listbox so the user can apply a filter by those items the user has selected. It looks like this:


My question is: How do I tell the user there is an active filter? The tooltip of the button will have a description of the active filters but I was thinking about a change in the icon or the border of the button. What color would you make the icon for when a filter is active and when it is not?

Edit: Screenshot of the top of the application where the button is placed (the button is in the middle after the three comboboxes:


6 Answers 6


Go for a change in shape and/or border.

You could overlay something (a crossed circle perhaps - though this particular icon might be interpreted as "action not available") on the filter icon to show that one isn't active.

Another alternative might be to add a tick - though there are cultural differences on whether a tick means OK or not. I can't find the reference right now though.

  • Thanks, I liked the tick option. The crossed circle may tell the user he cannot filter, may give a message of forbidden action. Apr 5, 2011 at 11:11
  • @jpsstavares - that's a good point.
    – ChrisF
    Apr 5, 2011 at 11:12

Because the functionality behind the filtering icon possibly hides some otherwise visible data I'd probably would start by adding an exclamation mark to the corner of the icon - if restricted to change the icon only.

A better first thought would include showing the active filters without the drop down.

  • We have space constraint on the interface so we went with this solution. The button is in the application toolstrip bar so showing all the filters without the drop down isn't really an option. I liked the exclamation mark though! Apr 5, 2011 at 11:08

When I use filters I can usually tell the filter is active if the filter button itself is in colour. When no filter is applied its usually just black & white.

I find this solution works best as the button will always remain black & white until a selection is made then it instantly turns to a colour one.

In addition I have used a few solutions that hiughlight the background of any text that matches the filter along with a tooltip.

  • Thanks for you suggestion. I liked the b&w approach a lot. In this case the filter will only filter the tree on the left so the highlight suggestion is of no use here. Apr 5, 2011 at 13:10
  • 1
    I just realized that the b&w approach can lead the user to think the button is disabled.. Apr 5, 2011 at 14:31
  • Yeah it can be an issue. Depends if you acknowledge a difference in the contrast between B&W and scales of grey. If it was disabled I'd make it grey.
    – saybeano
    Apr 5, 2011 at 20:42

If I understand correctly, the filter will affect the tree under Project Explorer? Seeing how far the filter is from the tree, I think it would be even for a seasoned user quite easy to forget that there are any filters applied. If you can’t move the filter closer to the region it affects, another approach I’ve seen is to show a small label/panel above the tree stating “Showing filtered results” or something similar; and possibly a linkbutton to remove the filters. (This all of course in addition to showing the current filter state on the filter icon as well).


The current approach can't be very obvious, i'd suggest you draw this one again.

make a larger screenshot so we can see how much space you got there.

  • I've just posted a global screenshot of the application. Hope it helps Apr 5, 2011 at 11:38

I would change the color of the icon. you can see a live example here: telerik

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