I have a form that administrators complete to log work orders (WOs) for site maintenance. A WO specifies who logged the work and what the work is eg broken tap. Part of the form includes a location field.

Sometimes the location is general eg 'central heating system' or specific 'broken tap' so the form has to legislate for both scenarios.

Admins can be responsible for more than one building.

The system has to exact match location for reporting purposes so free text input is out.

Maps are out of the question.

Is there any research that indicates what a good method of data input for location is? Look-ahead? Drop downs? I know this is terribly general but that's the best I can do.


a bit of user research tells me that a series of drop downs isnt always best as the user just wants to enter, say, a room name 'directors board room' and for the system to figure out the rest of the location info rather than the user having to go through all those drop downs...

4 Answers 4


I do not have professional info but I will reply as a user. We have a similar need with an internal application for every kind of requests: projects, sick leave, holidays, broken lamp, new computer, visa papers... All sorts.

What we do is to have a tree and get the user to search in it and select the appropriate category. If the categories are well defined, the tree does not change very often and the search is semi - smart; the system works very well.


Use a combination of general and specific form values. That is, use dropdown menus for the (when applicable) building, floor, room, etc to narrow down the location of the task, and use a text field for the task itself.

Dropdown menus are useful if and only if

  1. The content and order of the menu is predictable (fixed)
  2. The user is certain of the desired option's location in the menu

Use text fields instead of dropdown menus whenever one or none of the above conditions apply.

  • the solution we have at the moment has location and task split. Its just the location selector I want to focus on.
    – colmcq
    Nov 5, 2014 at 10:00
  • How many locations are there, then? Can a task span multiple locations or is it preferable/required for tasks to be recorded as one-location only? What is the likelihood of the form developer(s) not anticipating and listing all of the locations? Depending on the answers to these questions, the most convenient solution could be radio buttons, checkboxes, or a dropdown.
    – Tim Huynh
    Nov 5, 2014 at 22:46
  • tricky. the scenario is that there is a fault. the fault could apply to a room (broken tap) or a higher level (building, central heating system). the fault and location are specified separately. The location is declared first, subjectively, and then the fault. There can be many locations and many levels under those locations. eg a company has many buildings but each building has many floors.
    – colmcq
    Nov 6, 2014 at 9:43

How does your user think about the domain? Any good UX design will model the users understanding of the site as closely as possible. e.g. With a hierarchical mental model the site may be navigated as

"Building A" >  "Floor 1" > "Henry Room" > "Lighting" 

and the UI should support this flow. Do note that organisation nomenclature may be different between sites, but system would still work. e.g another site may be

"Block B" > "Green Zone" > "Room 11.5" > "Radiator"

The UI pattern that springs to mind in supporting hierarchical navigation is Miller columns which at the very least should provide inspiration for a solution. (as a personal aside there are few implementations of this pattern I like, but it definitely can be effective)

  • we've done this and it is variable. In the hospitals we serve its just a room number and no hierarchy so the drop down solution is a pain; in other situations users think in terms of the hierarchy.
    – colmcq
    Nov 5, 2014 at 9:46

This is the way I think of to solve this kind of location-related situations:

  • Be explicit: tell users they have to select one of the given options (color association helps)
  • Use inputs to search and filter the results
  • Inputs should have the auto-complete functionality just with the valid options.

That's the basic idea, but you could also add things like a check mark or a different background on the selected option.

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I've recommend the same solution in this post

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