I've created a faceted search UI using multi-select dropdowns for facets instead of links or checkboxes. I see a few advantages:

  • It's clear at a glance what filters are applied
  • It eliminates the long list of facet values that is always visible. When they click on a facet field, they'll still be able to see all the options for that facet in the dropdown.
  • This particular mutli-select dropdown lets people quickly choose items in combobox fashion by typing the values.

On the other hand, I've had anecdotal feedback that people like to see all the values up-front and its not entirely clear that they can click in the textboxes to see the list of available values.

Is this a usable solution?

Faceted search

  • Working on a similar elearning search/filter UI & this is almost exactly what I was envisioning as well. Consequently, I like it :) The 1 potential issue I see is that the ability/process to select multiple options isn't immediately clear. Shift+click to get "K" and "2"? But then (how) does it work on mobile? Maybe a small "+" or "Add" near each input field?
    – mc01
    Jul 17, 2015 at 23:25
  • I'm using Chosen.js, Click will select one and close the dropdown. Ctrl-Click will allow multiple selections. Both are standard behavior I believe, but I don't imagine Ctrl-Click is known by most casual users. Mobile is a good point. I just found out chosen.js doesn't work well with mobile, but an alternative, Select2, does better.
    – c152driver
    Jul 17, 2015 at 23:39

2 Answers 2


One answer. You've asked whether to use drop-downs. First, when I looked at the illustration you posted, I didn't recognize your boxes as drop-downs because there's no ▼ cue that anything will drop down. I suppose you could add a glyph (triangle) to signal that these boxes is a drop-downs, but there's a problem with that: drop-downs are unusable for a general audience—at least in the UK. To back up this statement, here's Alice Bartlett's presentation on banning select tags, which is an excellent talk. Highly recommended to watch the whole video. The video also points to NN/G article, Drop-Down menus: Use sparingly, and Luke Wroblewski's article, Dropdowns should be the UI of last resort.

Another answer. Here's my own anecdotal experience. I solved a very similar design problem in a very similar way as your solution. We released, and then I looked at the search logs. Surprisingly, to me, the log showed the site's registration-related search results were performing poorly. (For obvious reasons, I'm not naming the site.) Parents looking for courses for their kids didn't seem to be able to apply the correct set of filters/facets, and even when they were able to, the log showed they didn't look past the first few results, so they missed most of the course choices. And I don't think this is a one-off result. Do you remember the Google search page of a few years ago? it used to have a few search refinements. Then those disappeared, but it still had a link to Advanced Search. Now, the only way to find Advanced Search is to Google it in the regular search. In general, people don't use filters/faceted search, and Google knows it.

On the bright side, you've got a product you can test, you can set a baseline against which to measure future improvement, and you have an opportunity to improve. "Yay." Right?

  • Thanks. I'll check out the video. So do you think this is more of a "select tags are bad" issue and checkboxes may be more effective, or is it that filters/faceted searches aren't approachable by casual users any way you present it?
    – c152driver
    Jul 17, 2015 at 23:44
  • I just rewrote a bit. Faceted search doesn't perform in the hands of a general (non-Dev) audience. If you have $100 to spend, here are 5 dozen recommendations that may help you. nngroup.com/reports/… But someone will have bought this report and blogged about parts of it, so you could look for it—but then you're at the mercy of someone else's ability to pick and choose and rewrite the best bits in a clear manner.
    – JeromeR
    Jul 17, 2015 at 23:48
  • @c152driver Let us know how it goes, because this is an interesting problem. Thanks for the vote.
    – JeromeR
    Jul 22, 2015 at 22:13

Faceted navigation serves two purposes:

  • Allows users to refine/filter results to better find what they're looking for
  • Exposes the breadth and type of results by providing aggregate information about the content and how it's organized (this benefit is more realized if result counts are provided alongside each of the options)

Two research papers support the importance of the second purpose as inferred by examining what users pay attention to on search results pages (time is almost evenly distributed between looking at facets versus looking at the results):

What Do Exploratory Searchers Look at in a Faceted Search Interface?

Eye Tracking the Use of a Collapsible Facets Panel in a Search Interface

The proposed interface definitely reduces clutter - but does so at a cost.

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