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I'm from England, which means in drop-down lists I have to search for United Kingdom, then England, then Great Britain... it's generally the UK, but it does vary from site to site. What is the best practice for cases like this where there are multiple ways to refer to a country?

Edit: I should clarify what the problem is, here. When presented with a big list, I have to go hunting. The problem isn't that I'm confused about which to pick out of say, England and UK, the problem is being presented with a long list I have to search and have no idea which one to look for. It's very frustrating when a list doesn't have whichever one I look for first... or second... so I have to look in three different places to find my country.

I'm sure there are other examples out there of similar situations, this isn't specific to the UK I'm sure.

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  • You can remove Great Britain from your list (it's not a country) and replace it by Britain instead.
    – Knu
    Commented Aug 1, 2011 at 11:52
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    @Knu - hence the confusion! Even natives of England / United Kingdom are confused with the terminology so the most obvious option should be used - i.e. UK (or United Kingdom). Also, Britain isn't a country. Great Britain is a land mass, British is a nationality but neither a countries.
    – JonW
    Commented Aug 1, 2011 at 13:31
  • @jon AFAIK Britain has 2 meanings: England+Wales or UK. In the first case you are right it's not a country.
    – Knu
    Commented Aug 1, 2011 at 21:29
  • @Knu. I've never seen the word Britain used in a way which excludes Scotland.
    – TRiG
    Commented Aug 2, 2011 at 12:08
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    I have no answer but a good example of what not to do : 1) do not rely on the site main language lexical order 2) do not use "scotland" and "united kingdom / england" (respectively sorted as "écosse" and "royaume uni") 3) if you choosed to use british countries, do not place Belfast in Ireland.... (see toulouse.aeroport.fr/en/all-our-flights/all-destinations/…) Commented Aug 9, 2011 at 9:08

8 Answers 8

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For the hunting down the list you can check out the answers from Adding USA at the top of dropdown list of countries. OK practice or not?. For example:

  • automatically copy popular countries to the top of the list
  • detect the user's location and select that or add it to the top
  • allow for plain text typing and auto complete countries that match

Also, if you have more space on the page, have a look at the answers from Choose Your Country: Best Usability approach. Depending on your usage you can display a big list with flag icons, grouped by continent, or use a map.

Further you can include a little note below some countries in the list, like this:

enter image description here

(where the note is inside the option, so when selecting, you select both the name and the note.)

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  • I like this approach. I think the best possible option would be a best guess from geoip, an auto-complete that recognises most common variants (and native names as well as English, e.g. Deutschland as well as Germany), and a drop-down just in case the user likes drop-downs (or doesn't have Javascript enabled).
    – ZoFreX
    Commented Aug 9, 2011 at 10:09
  • 1
    The ideal solution is where United Kingdom sits at the top of the list if you are a user in the UK - as well as being repeated in the alphabetical listing. The UK has - at the moment - the same Royal Mail postage rates within the zone. Whether this stays the same after Brexit remains to be seen, as the UK may cease to exist as an entity.
    – PhillipW
    Commented Jul 23, 2016 at 12:03
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Isn't this also a question about granularity? Choose the highest common factor that adds or differentiates value in your service.

For example - does a service actually differentiate between users from Scotland and users from England. If yes, include both. If no, stick to the United Kingdom as in Katie's linked list.

If there is no differentiation between users in the UK and any other countries in the EU, then consider sticking to Europe - and similarly for other continental or cross-nation regional divisions.

[edit] If it's not part of a service but part of an actual postal address, then use United Kingdom - as it's the internationally recognized country name (unlike Scotland,Wales,England,Northern Ireland).

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  • Interesting answer, I was leaning towards including all the variations to minimise the time it takes to find one.
    – ZoFreX
    Commented Aug 1, 2011 at 12:36
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    Yep, I agree with Roger that you should find out first why you need to know where your users are from to find out what granularity is required. Other questions are: do you need to know where they usually live or where they currently are, or where their postage address or billing address is?
    – Geert
    Commented Aug 2, 2011 at 10:50
  • I haven't accepted this answer as it doesn't tackle the actual problem as well as the answer I picked, but I just wanted to say thank you, because granularity is a really important consideration that I hadn't thought of.
    – ZoFreX
    Commented Aug 9, 2011 at 10:08
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Choose a standard and stick by it.

Here is a link to the International Standards Organisation country names and codes. http://www.iso.org/iso/country_codes/iso_3166_code_lists/country_names_and_code_elements.htm

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  • 3
    Just to add to the confusion even the ISO names and codes don't match! United Kingdom with a code of GB.
    – JonW
    Commented Aug 1, 2011 at 14:08
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    @Jon: UK is about the only country-code top-level domain which is not equal to the 3166 code. Commented Aug 1, 2011 at 20:20
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For simplicity, I always recommend 'United Kingdom'. But a well-constructed list will quickly let me figure out that United Kingdom is the option to select. And truth be told, I can't recall any site I've seen recently that had any other options. As others have mentioned, 'Great Britain' is not a country.

The only downside of putting 'United Kingdom' is that it's then not entirely accurate for the Isle of Man, and the Channel Islands, as they aren't really part of the United Kingdom.

To go off on a slight tangent, for what it worth, I have less of a problem with countries, but rather difficulties when locating the Pound Sterling on a currency menu. I've seen it as: - GBP - British Pounds - Pound Sterling

I tend to scroll up and down the list, or start typing until I find one of the above options.

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England is not a country. Neither is Great Britain. At least not today. So there can in fact not be any confusion about this: United Kingdom is the only correct entry to add to your list.

Adding multiple names to the list will actually make things more complicated for the user, don't do it. I can already see users wondering if they need to pick "England" or "United Kingdom".

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    England is a country.
    – Knu
    Commented Aug 1, 2011 at 11:51
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    England is a country inside the United Kingdom, which is a country; see, for example, statistics.gov.uk/geography/uk_countries.asp and en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Kingdom Commented Aug 1, 2011 at 12:12
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    I am not a native english speaker so I don't know the exact definitions of the terms "country", "state", "nation", etc. However, when 10 years old we learn in school about every "country" in the world. England is not on that list. When you look at the members of the United Nations, England is not part of that club. So I don't know which statute that England has, but it is in fact irrelevant. From an international point of view there is no "country" named England. There is only the United Kingdom. Commented Aug 1, 2011 at 13:23
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    England is one of the nations that make up the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (to give the UK it's proper name). Unless your application was UK specific it wouldn't be sensible to include "England" on a list of countries. It would be like including Bavaria or Saxony, or Alaska.
    – ChrisF
    Commented Aug 1, 2011 at 18:01
  • So what is it then? A country or a nation? Or is that the same thing in English? Commented Aug 3, 2011 at 13:06
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Since you are from the UK, how do people in the different parts of UK like to identify themselves.

Also research the most popular e-commerce sites that cater to your region. What what they use? This will help with the "convention" aspect.

If your it infrastructural allows you to determine country based on IP or network, i would suggest that you pre-fill that option. A drop down with 200+ options can be frustrating to navigate.

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What's wrong with including all the common names? For instance, if you wanted to support the UK and the Netherlands:

  • England
  • Great Britain
  • Holland
  • Netherlands
  • Northern Ireland
  • Scotland
  • United Kingdom
  • Wales

If you're worried that users will get confused why there is more than one option, than you could do this:

  • England (or the United Kingdom)
  • Great Britain (or the United Kingdom)
  • Holland (or the Netherlands)
  • Netherlands
  • Northern Ireland (or the United Kingdom)
  • Scotland (or the United Kingdom)
  • United Kingdom
  • Wales (or the United Kingdom)
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  • What's wrong is that it is inconsistent with convention. This means it may be jarring and distracting from a task.
    – jackiemb
    Commented Jul 23, 2016 at 11:11
  • @jackiemb The convention is annoying and bad UX, as described by OP. The tolerance principle says that interfaces should be forgiving of different inputs, and not needlessly pedantic.
    – Flimm
    Commented Jul 23, 2016 at 11:31
  • Users learn. Interfaces teach. Not every circumstance needs to be designed for.
    – jackiemb
    Commented Jul 23, 2016 at 11:46
  • I am honestly shocked to read comments like this in a forum dedicated to user experience and design.
    – Flimm
    Commented Jul 24, 2016 at 12:53
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I did a bit of informal user testing on this a while ago, to see if there were issues. United Kingdom at the top, then repeated alphabetically. From memory:

  1. Many users missed the top listing initially.

  2. All users found the correct country eventually

  3. Some found the country by returning to the top

  4. Some found the country by scrolling to the bottom

  5. While some said they were looking for England or some variation, this didn't stop them from completing the task, and I don't remember them registering annoyance about it afterward

  6. The rolly scrolly mouse thingy caused a problem sometimes because they would select the correct thing from the list, and then not notice that they'd selected something different accidentally, but that was ok because they always noticed it was wrong when replayed on the next page, and could go back and correct it.

Like I say, this is from memory, which is fallible, and I don't have my notes. I do remember item 6 quite clearly though, and I do know that we were satisfied with the design as tested.

It takes half a day to do a bit of testing on this, if you use an existing site and a realistic task.

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  • Thank you Jackie, this is an awesome answer - it's great to have some actual testing results to refer to!
    – ZoFreX
    Commented Aug 6, 2016 at 11:55

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