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Dropdown

Dropdowns present a list of options from which a user can select one option, or several. A selected option can represent a value in a form, or can be used as an action to filter or sort existing content.

Overview

There are three different variants of dropdowns that support various kinds of functionality—dropdown, multiselect, and combo box.

Variants

VariantPurpose
DropdownAllows the user to select one option from a list.
MultiselectAllows the user to select multiple options from a list and filter.
Combo boxAllows the user to make a selection from a list of suggested, likely, or desired values.

When to use

  • Dropdowns can be used in forms on full pages, in modals, or on side panels. The dropdown component is used to filter or sort contents on a page. It is a stylized version of the select component, and can be styled as needed.

When not to use

  • It is best practice not to use a dropdown if there are two options to choose from. In this case, use a radio button group instead.
  • Do not nest dropdowns or use them to display overly complex information. Keep option selections as straight forward as possible.
  • Consider using a select dropdown if most of your experience is form-based or frequently used on mobile platforms. The native select works more easily with a native form when submitting data and is also easier to use on a mobile platform.

Live demo

Modifiers

Formatting

Anatomy

Dropdowns are composed of four distinct sections—assistive text like labels or helper text, a field, a menu, and options contained within the menu. Labels and helper text can guide the user to make an informed decision when making a selection.

Dropdown anatomy
  1. Labels: Text that informs the user what to expect in the list of dropdown options.
  2. Helper text: Assistive text to help the user choose the right selection.
  3. Field: Persists when the dropdown is open or closed.
  4. Option: A choice for the user, shown with other choices in a menu.
  5. Menu: A list of options to choose from, displayed as an open state. from.

Sizing

Height

There are three dropdown height sizes: Large, medium (default), and small. Use a consistent dropdown height when it is being used alongside other form components on the same page. Supporting three different dropdown sizes gives you more flexibility when structuring layouts. When in doubt, use the default medium size height.

Dropdown sizes
Dropdown sizeHeight (px/rem)Use case
Large48/3Choose this size when there is a lot of space to work with. This size is typically used in simple forms or when a dropdown is placed by itself on a page, for example as a filter.
Medium (default)40/2.5This is our default size and should be used whenever possible.
Small32/2Use when space is constricted or when placing a dropdown in a form that is long and complex.

When the menu is open, each option in the menu should be the same height as the field. Use a consistent size of form components on the same page. For example, if you are using a medium size dropdown also use the same size text inputs, buttons, and so on.

Dropdown field and option size relationship

Width

There is no minimum or maximum width for a dropdown. The width can be customized appropriately for its context.

Placement

Field containers should vertically align to the grid and with other form components on a page.

Do align field containers to the grid.

Do align field containers to the grid.

Do not align field input text to the grid and hang the container.

Do not align field input text to the grid and hang the container.

Content

Main elements

Labels

  • Labels inform users what to expect in the list of dropdown options.
  • Keep the label short and concise by limiting it to a single line of text.

Helper text

  • Helper text is pertinent information that assists the user in choosing the right selection from the dropdown menu.
  • Helper text is always available when the dropdown field is focused and appears underneath the label.
  • Use sentence-style capitalization and write the text as full sentences with punctuation, unless space is limited.
Dropdown assistive labels, helper text or none.

Field placeholder text

  • Placeholder text is presented in the field by default if no selection has been made from the dropdown. This is important to have in case the dropdown does not have a label above it.
  • Use clear placeholder text for the dropdown trigger so that users understand the purpose.

Options in a menu

  • Describe the dropdown option succinctly in one line of text.
  • Never use decorative images or icons within a dropdown.
  • We recommend presenting the options in alphabetical order.

Optional versus required fields

All fields in a form are assumed required, and optional fields are tagged. For more information, see the form component usage guidance.

Overflow content

Avoid having multiple lines of text in a dropdown. If the text is too long for one line, add an ellipsis (…) for overflow content, and accompany with a browser-based tooltip to show the full string of text.

Dropdown overflow text truncation.

Further guidance

For further content guidance, see Carbon’s content guidelines.

Universal behaviors

The behaviors listed in this section are universal across all of the variants. For behaviors that are unique to each variant, see the sections below.

Direction

A dropdown can open up or down depending on its position on the screen. For example, if the dropdown appears at the bottom and close to the edge of the interface, the menu expands upward to avoid being cropped. By default, our dropdowns open downward.

Elevation

Carbon has one layer style called a box-shadow. The box-shadow is placed behind the dropdown menu when open. Box-shadow is also used in other components that have overlayed menus, such as the overflow menu and date picker calendar. The SCSS for box-shadow is 0 2px 6px 0 rgba(0,0,0,.2).

Scrolling behavior

Scroll bars may not always be enabled so we recommend showing 50% of the last option’s container height to indicate there is more to see within the menu. We recommend starting a scroll at the sixth option in the menu list, but this may vary based on your specific use case.

Dropdown scrolling menu option cutoff.

Interactions

Mouse

Users trigger a dropdown menu to open by clicking the chevron icon or clicking anywhere within the field. Users can close the menu by clicking the chevron icon or clicking outside of the menu.

Dropdown closed and open state click targets.
  • To select an option the user can click anywhere inside an option container.
Dropdown menu option click target.
  • To clear all selected options from a list in a multiselect dropdown, click the “x” icon next to the value inside the tag.
Multiselect dropdown tag clear click target.
  • To clear a selected value in a combo box or a filterable dropdown, click the “x” icon to the right of the field input text.
Combo box and filterable dropdown clear click target.

Keyboard

Dropdown:

  • The dropdown field is the element that receives focus. All keyboard interactions happen from this element.
  • Users can move the highlighted option to the next option by pressing the Down arrow.
  • Users can move the highlighted option to the previous option by pressing the Up arrow.
  • Users can open the dropdown menu by pressing Space, Enter, Down arrow or the Up arrow.
  • Users can close the dropdown menu by pressing Escape, Space, or Enter.

Combo box:

  • When typing a character, focus stays on the field while an option in the menu is highlighted that best matches the typed character.
  • When typing multiple characters in rapid succession, focus stays on the field while an option in the menu is highlighted that best matches the string of characters typed.

Multiple selection:

  • The multiselect field receives focus if none of the options are selected in the menu.
  • Once an option in the dropdown menu receives focus, users can press Enter to select or deselect the option.
  • Users can open and close a dropdown menu by pressing Space.

Screen readers

  • Labels must be announced to the screen reader on focus. Ensure the helper text that appears under an input is read when an assistive technology user stops at an input using ARIA.
  • VoiceOver: Users can trigger a state change by pressing Control-Option-Space or Space while the dropdown field has screen reader focus.
  • JAWS: Users can trigger a state change by pressing Space while the dropdown field has screen reader focus.
  • NVDA: Users can trigger a state change by pressing Space while the dropdown field has screen reader focus.

Use when you can select only one option from a list at a time.

  • By default, the dropdown displays placeholder text in the field when closed.
  • Clicking on a closed field opens a menu of options.
Dropdown closed and open state.
  • Selecting an option from the menu closes it and the selected option text replaces the placeholder text in the field and also remains as an option in place if the menu is open.
Dropdown selected state.

Multiselect

Use when you can select multiple options from a list or to filter information.

Making a selection

  • By default, the dropdown displays placeholder text in the field when closed.
  • Clicking a closed field opens a menu of options. Each option contains a checkbox input to the left of the option text.
  • The menu stays open while options are being selected. The menu closes by clicking the field or outside of the dropdown.
Multiselect dropdown closed and open states.
  • Once options have been selected from the menu, a tag appears to the left of the text in the field containing the total number of selected options. The placeholder text can change to text that better reflects what is selected.
  • Selected options shift to the top of the menu in alphanumeric order.
  • Unlike dropdown and combo box, the menu does not close once the user makes selections. Because multiple selections are possible, the user needs to click outside of the dropdown or on the parent element to close the menu.
Multiselect dropdown selected state.

Clear all

To clear all selected options from a list, hover over the filterable tag and click the “x” (or close) icon next to the value. To help with clarity, a browser tooltip appears when the user hovers over the “x” icon to indicate the click action results. If you want to unselect individual options, you can do so by unselecting the checkbox of each option.

Multiselect dropdown clear tag interaction.

Filtering

Use filtering to narrow down a long list of options to find the option you want to select.

  • By default, the filterable multiselect dropdown displays placeholder text in the field when closed.
  • When hovering over the field, a text cursor appears.
Filterable dropdown closed and open state.
  • The menu opens by clicking anywhere in the field and you can start typing to filter the list of options. The options that start to match your entry remain in the list while other existing options are temporarily removed.
  • After typing text in the field, the close (x) icon appears to the right of the text in the field. This clears any text that’s been entered in the field.
Filterable dropdown typing and filtering open menu.
  • Once options have been selected from the menu, a tag appears to the left of the text in the field containing the total number of selected options. The placeholder text can change to text that better reflects what is selected.
  • Selected options shift to the top of the menu in alphanumeric order.
  • Like the default multiselect dropdown, the menu does not close once the user makes selections.
Filterable dropdown selected state.

Combo box

Allows the the user to make a selection from a predefined list of options and is typically used when there are a large amount of options to choose from.

  • By default, the combo box displays placeholder text in the field when closed.
  • When hovering over the field, a text cursor appears.
Combo box closed enabled and hover states.
  • The menu opens by clicking anywhere in the field and you can start typing to sort through the list of options. The option that best matches the typed characters is highlighted.
  • After typing text in the field, the close (x) icon appears to the right of the text in the field. This clears any text that’s been entered in the field.
Combo box typing and option hover jumping to matched entry in the menu.
  • Selecting an option closes the menu and the selected option replaces the placeholder text.
Combo box selected state.

Modifiers