I'm trying to figure out an elegant solution to this problem, but haven't had any great ideas. (This question is similar but doesn't really answer my issue)

We allow our users to search different types of data from the same input box, but only searching one set of data at a time. (e.g. searching for cars or people but not both at the same time).

Currently we have a search box with a dropdown arrow that looks something like this: enter image description here

Clicking the arrow drops down a list letting them select a different category to search.

Is there a better/nicer way to implement this sort of functionality?

Edit to clarify: I really do like the idea of a single search box without forcing the user to choose a category. However, technical limitations mean that this design is not feasible at this time, so Ades answer was the best solution for me.

  • The most obvious better/nicer solution is to not force the user to select the type of search. Is there a technical reason for the restriction? Jul 7, 2015 at 1:09
  • @EvilClosetMonkey A few, including performance and accuracy of results (we're not really Google :)) Jul 7, 2015 at 1:13

3 Answers 3


Just follow the established search form similar to Amazon one (see below). If the user doesn't select a particular category, then it would search all categories for that particular keyword.

enter image description here


I think search should be a 1-step thing and the categorization should be done by the software/app. If possible, allow the user to search in multiple categories. [Technically speaking, you can use Sphinx for this purpose]

One good example of such technique is the older version of Spotlight on Mac. spotlight on mac

The user types his search query and the system categorizes it based on metadata. We followed this example while developing search for our website.

Hope this helps!

search inspired by spotlight

  • The OP clearly states, and confirms the reasons why in comments, that they can not use a single search solution. How can the OP adjust this solution for their restrictions? Jul 7, 2015 at 13:31

On Google map (for exemple) you have also one research input field to search many different things (restaurant, street, address, hostel...) So you could use the same behavior :

enter image description here

enter image description here

A smart research, but I would add exemples in the input field, like this : enter image description here

You can compile this solution, keeping the category dropdown menu. Here the user has the choice.

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