We are currently redesigning employee search for a web app and we are debating whether the search page should display some employee records by default or not.

In my opinion displaying a portion of the results provides more context when users are formulating their query and provides an opportunity to offers users valuable data that they can use upfront to take bulk actions. The solution proposed also includes feedback to users in terms of number of results found and employee list is updated dynamically to reflect user query.

On the other hand, backend developers seem very reluctant to display results by default, their rationale is that there is no need to return 70 000 records when your are just searching for a single user, hence my question.

what would be the best approach to implement search results page in this context?

  • Gmail uses filter concept for searching. Works fine.
    – Basilevs
    Commented Jul 15, 2016 at 13:48
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    Is this question about showing the user what an example row looks like so they can formulate a search better? I feel like all the answers are missing that point. Yes, showing all people that names start with "A" probably isn't going to show the searcher the person they want, but it will show what type of data you are returning and what keywords you could search with, such as department, etc. Commented Jul 15, 2016 at 17:41

5 Answers 5


Unlike B2C shopping sites where you can display a list of popular items or new promotions, there is nothing useful that you can display when it comes to finding employees, so a simple search field would suffice. You might also want to consider including a department filter if it help the user to narrow down the search criteria (assuming your data model supports this).

I have seen many enterprise class software which initially shows all users sorted alphabetically together with pagination, but this never supports the users goal of finding a specific user, and the user would never be interested in the first page of employees just because their names start with A.

So keep this simple and your users will love the simplicity of the solution.

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    Depending on the situation, there may be certain default lists that work well, such as the newest 10 employees, or the 10 most-viewed. Commented Jul 15, 2016 at 16:50
  • You could list the CxOs there Commented Jul 15, 2016 at 19:55

Here's a different idea, what about a department list?

Just brainstorming in terms of what people might be doing when it comes to looking at a list of employees. If I know the name of the person I'm looking for, I'll directly search for that. I'm guessing the 2nd most common case would probably be "I know the person is in XYZ department".

Instead of hunting through the filter or search parameters section to find department, show them a listing of the departments. That'll allow them to drill down reasonably quickly to find the staff they're looking for.

This might work better if you have a limited set of departments as oppose to 100s.

  • Exactly what I was thinking, however given current constraints, we have taken a phased approach to doing this; starting with incremental search or type ahead, then advanced search and bulk actions followed by adding new data sets such as departments etc. This plan will take time to implement and my thoughts are that there was no reason for the search functionality to be "incomplete" ( not displaying a minimum number of records by default). This being said your idea is spot-on and definitely the direction that we will be taking.
    – Okavango
    Commented Jul 17, 2016 at 20:32

The rule in ecommerce is to NEVER return an empty page after search. Show similar items or when the search query is to incoherent, show popular items or items on sale.

But you're asking about default.
If there's room you could show something. Recent searches would be a good one. Facebook displays those if you linger in the search box for a few seconds. I can't really come up with anything else you might want to display by default.
Or you might want to go the Google way and just show the search box. Clean and simple.

What you show after the search query is more important to my opinion. How do you handle zero results. People might not remember a persons name exactly. Display names that are similar. Or when one result is returned, because the search query was very exact, show similar persons (same department or same function).

In my experience backend developers always show a lot of reluctance. Not meaning this as an insult, but BE developers are lazy in that context. I've had a hard time convincing the BE developers to spend the extra time into the result page to always show relevant items when there are zero results. Why spend that much time when not displaying anything was fine too? My argument was why settle with fine or good when you can have better. These UX arguments are lost to some of them and in my case all of those I had to work with.

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    In my humble opinion there is always something useful and even better..something "actionable" that can be displayed by default. The approach I have proposed so far hinges on roles and frequency of use to display relevant search results upfront. therefore user remains in control, gets more context and action results immediately.
    – Okavango
    Commented Jul 15, 2016 at 13:25
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    -1 for your first "rule", because this is UX not sales SE, and returning fake results is horrible UX. If the user's query did not produce any results for what they wanted, they need to know that so they can either try reformulating their search or go elsewhere to find what they want. Confusing them with results that actually have nothing to do with what they wanted is horrible UX. Commented Jul 15, 2016 at 14:45
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    I take exception to "BE developers are lazy in [any] context". A good BE developer will speak up if a feature feels extraneous. It is incredibly common for clients to suggest things which could be handled in simpler ways, or are sometimes completely unnecessary. Any code we write, we will have to maintain in the future.
    – Lindsey D
    Commented Jul 15, 2016 at 17:31
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    @R.. It's not by any means meant as fake results. Telling the user no results were found is obvious, but it's often forgotten that you can also give alternatives. In this article by the NN Group, they clearly state that "Suggestions for similar queries that do return results" is a path forward for the user. And just to be clear, what you call sales SE, I call increase of conversion and decreasing frustration ergo User Experience. Commented Jul 16, 2016 at 9:53
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    @Mark if in your case the smoke shifter is by far not the same as monkey wrenches, it's just poorly done. I did say "display names that are similar" but by that I mean similar objects by object, not similar objects by adjective. Commented Jul 16, 2016 at 9:59

In terms of a users experience whatever is fastest will be best. If you can get all records on the page and search them in the memory of the browser faster than you can send a search request over the wire that will be the better way of doing it.

Unless you can know why people would be searching the employee records in some way I don't think you can possibly offer a selection of "default" people. Maybe you could see if that's some research that could be done? Perhaps if you have a link from an internal article by the internal compliance team to the search for people page then you might consider preloading the internal compliance team, but other links might not be obvious.

You mention that you want to hint to the users about what they could search for, maybe the space would be better used by explicitly stating how they could find people? Rather than showing a record and assuming a user will know you can search on anything shown.

Also you might want to consider by whom each characterisitc can be searched on, people might be concerned that anyone could search for the names of under 21 year old females with a social media account as an example.


In our program we showed an empty list with a message saying something like "Select your criteria and click Search."and users hated it. Apparently some were thinking that there were no employees in the list. We end up showing the first page (10 records) of the unfiltered list.

I personally like the idea of showing the most recently "used" records. Meaning that if I click in an employee in the list to see details, etc, the next time I go to the list I'll see those employees recently used. The problem is that it doesn't always makes sense and it needs some extra work.

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