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Im currently designing a parallel filtering mechanism, and am confronted with the question: whether to start by 'all selected' to signify that nothing is filtered or start by 'none selected' to signify that. Second option seems more intuitive but less consistant as on first selection the mode is changed to one under which 'non selection' signifies filtered data.

In sum: is it better to be consistent and start with all checkboxes selected to signify that nothing is filtered or start by none checkboxes selected to signify that?

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Although it's counter-intuitive as a developer, the standard convention for this is:

  • Nothing selected = see all results
  • One or more items selected = filter to only show results that match the filters
  • Everything selected = see all results

In the majority of cases this pattern gives the greatest usability since you're likely to only be choosing a small number of items from the filter list so it's quicker to select the items you want rather than unselect the items you don't want. The longer the list, the better this pattern is.

The situation where you might want to start with everything selected is if the user is more likely to be removing results they don't want to see rather than specifying what they do want to see.

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It depends on the situation.

In this example there is a chart that displays age brackets, deselecting one of the checkboxes will exclude people in that age bracket in the chart (as well as other charts in the dashboard). This seemed to me the best option. The tick in the checkbox symbolises it is included, therefore I start with all selected.

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In another part of the same application we have a movie search. Essentially also a filter but it works differently. If there is no movie selected (added from the search) it acts as if all movies are included. Once a movie is selected all the other ones are excluded (unless also selected from the search). The use case for the movie filter is: adding a couple of movies to see how the audience's demographics differ from the overall audience. The filter does what the user wants even though it's not consistent.

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The two methods work differently but so far no-one has noticed it (except me). My advice would be that you don't have to be consistent as long as it makes sense to the person using it.

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