Helping a user choose from a very large list

list of countriesSometimes it is necessary for users to select a precise entry from a very large list. For example, one client described the need (for compliance purposes) to have users choose an ‘Occupation’ code from a list of almost 1000. She asked how could she make that long list into something that’s usable?

Putting users’ needs first

Although the occupation code has to go on the form, it should not be necessary for the user to pick from such a large list. The designer should try to present the user with some way of filtering to reduce the size of the list.

Consider the following approaches:

  • Find out what the common categories are, and offer them first;
  • Allow the user to enter plain text, and then try to match with valid list entries (listing the 10 closest matches);
  • If the occupation codes are in a logical grouping, offer the grouping so that users can choose the group first, and then narrow down to the specific occupation.

In any case, you should certainly conduct some category testing with your users to ensure that what you offer them aligns with categories they expect.

See also my article Should I use a dropdown?