Drop­downs are a Nightmare

Posted on: Jul 18, 2017

I hate long drop­downs. They’re large­ly unwieldy and rarely bet­ter suit­ed than an input field assist­ed with some sort of text sug­ges­tion plu­g­in like Lea Ver­ous amaz­ing Awe­som­plete. This video bog­gles the mind. How does some­one add this many options and assume the vis­i­tor won’t get over­whelmed quickly?

I under­stand that in this exam­ple, it’s meant to be an amus­ing and fun­ny extra. The prob­lem it high­lights though is one of usability.

From the start of the reg­is­tra­tion process on this com­pa­ny site, we’re met with a num­ber of items to choose from. Yes, we have the com­mon entries up top, and every­thing after is just for laughs, but already, the vis­i­tor is tired. I’m tired just from look­ing at it and I’m just watch­ing a video of it!

Don’t make me think! No, seriously. 

If you exhaust the vis­i­tor (even in jest) at the begin­ning, your chance of con­ver­sion is going to go down fast. Cog­ni­tive load goes up, espe­cial­ly when a list of choic­es are pre­sent­ed seriously.

Scrolling through a country list is tiring, to say the least.
Scrolling through a coun­try list is tir­ing, to say the least.

Like the coun­try list exam­ple, scrolling through dozens to even hun­dreds of choic­es exhausts the vis­i­tor. Mak­ing me scroll through all of this with­out assis­tance is ter­ri­bly inef­fi­cient and tir­ing. Orga­niz­ing drop­down items alpha­bet­i­cal­ly makes it eas­i­er for some­one who knows they can key in let­ters to try to find a match (I always hit uni to at least get me to the Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates), but the aver­age vis­i­tor doesn’t know or use these key­board shortcuts.

Mak­ing it work 

Sud­den­ly, by adding sug­ges­tions to our input, the vis­i­tor is aid­ed with­out feel­ing over­whelmed by a pos­si­bly vast list of val­ues that they won’t ever have any inten­tion of choos­ing. And if JavaScript isn’t enabled for one rea­son or anoth­er? We can always fall­back to a select or datalist element.

If you have numer­ous options in a drop down, I’d encour­age you to start using a sim­i­lar tool on your site.

Obvi­ous­ly, there are exam­ples where a sim­ple select ele­ment suf­fice. There are plen­ty of uses when a short drop down would present a rel­a­tive­ly quick scan for the vis­i­tor, but once they start scrolling to find the right option, it becomes more and more dif­fi­cult for them to process and to ulti­mate­ly achieve what you are try­ing to get them to do on your site.

Help­ing the vis­i­tor wade through a large num­ber of options is a rel­a­tive­ly sim­ple process, and one that pro­vides plen­ty of ben­e­fits for the site owner.