Best practice for for number of items in a dropdown on a web form?

11 Mar 2009 - 12:57am
4 years ago
4 replies
7769 reads
Albert Cornelissen
2009

Hello everyone. This is my first post on IxDA. :) I've been
developing web applications for a few years now, and usability has
always been a priority, but I have only really started obessesing
about usability in the last year or so.

A colleague and I had a discussion about the maximum number of
elements that should be used in a (select) dropdown menu on a web
form.

He thinks that fifteen is the maximum. Me? I'm not quite sure what
to think. I know it's no fun to scroll throught almost a hundred
options in such a menu, but I can't seem to think of a better
alternative - especially if the list itself is ordered properly.

The web app that sparked this conversation currently uses a
combination of multiple select lists. They're quite unsightly.
Still, they aren't being used for all that many elements. I think 30
is the maximum.

I guess my question is this: what is the best practice for the
maximum number of items in a (select) dropdown?

Comments

11 Mar 2009 - 9:08am
Batyah Rubin
2009

On the web, Jakob Nielsen says:

1. Very long menus that require scrolling make it impossible for
users to see all their choices in one glance. It's often better to
present such long lists of options as a regular HTML list of
traditional hypertext links.

2. Drop-down menus can be confusing because Web designers use them
for several different purposes.

3. When users select a value in a drop-down and then use the mouse
scroll wheel to move down the page, they often change the value of
the drop-down selection instead. and don't realize.

==>> See http://www.useit.com/alertbox/annoyances.html
==>> See http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20001112.html

All the best,
Batyah Rubin

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Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=39817

11 Mar 2009 - 12:28pm
Katie Albers
2005

I was taught that the canonical answer is 12. I've never checked the
research on that, and it predates being able to navigate through the
list by first letters, but since I've seen a lot of users struggle
with navigating alphabetized lists, I try to stick with it
anyway...which means that whenever the client will let me, my "State"
selection lets the user type in the two-letter abbreviation (and the
display then shows the associated state) and so forth.

If you've got 30 elements in a drop down menu, you should seriously
consider why they're in drop downs. Yes, those standardize inputs, but
there are other ways of doing that in most cases. Put as much of the
burden as possible on the computer. Let it work for its input; none of
this lazing around accepting hand-outs!

kt

Katie Albers
Founder & Principal Consultant
FirstThought
User Experience Strategy & Project Management
310 356 7550
katie at firstthought.com

On Mar 10, 2009, at 10:57 PM, Albert Cornelissen wrote:

> Hello everyone. This is my first post on IxDA. :) I've been
> developing web applications for a few years now, and usability has
> always been a priority, but I have only really started obessesing
> about usability in the last year or so.
>
> A colleague and I had a discussion about the maximum number of
> elements that should be used in a (select) dropdown menu on a web
> form.
>
> He thinks that fifteen is the maximum. Me? I'm not quite sure what
> to think. I know it's no fun to scroll throught almost a hundred
> options in such a menu, but I can't seem to think of a better
> alternative - especially if the list itself is ordered properly.
>
> The web app that sparked this conversation currently uses a
> combination of multiple select lists. They're quite unsightly.
> Still, they aren't being used for all that many elements. I think 30
> is the maximum.
>
> I guess my question is this: what is the best practice for the
> maximum number of items in a (select) dropdown?
> ________________________________________________________________
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11 Mar 2009 - 1:59pm
Den Serras
2009

FWIW, I'm experimenting with using modal popups instead of drop-downs. I know they are harder to preview because you can't figure out what you want without clicking, but I think they're better than links to second pages because I can animate the box so it's clear feedback from the button they just clicked. It creates a mental break without the harshness of a redraw. For long lists, it seems to work very well because the user can think about it for as long as necessary without holding the mouse button, then either clicking the item they want or dismissing the box with a close box (or, more practically, clicking the darkened area outside the frame).

23 Apr 2010 - 5:45am
mathisanita
2010

The more complicated it is the harder it is, from my user perspective.

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