The Frustrating Filter

What do you think this sign means?

Even if you can’t read the words, the meaning is universal. Yield to the camel! In car vs. camel, they will always win.

So now let’s do another quiz. What does this icon mean?

Does this filter or sort?

If you said filter, you win. If you said sort, you still win because this icon is confusing.

A few weeks ago, I designed a feature for selecting categories. As I sketched out the feature on the action bar, I ran it by a few users and came to a realization: the filter icon for Android suggests that it sorts. Sort and filter are two different things.

And so you see where this could be confusing. The first thing a user asked when I presented them with my sketch was, “does this sort?”

Take a look at my sketches and the action bar. What would you think this button does?

Right now, Android does not have a good alternative to the Filter button.

Here are what some other apps are using for a filter button.

As a designer, I had two choices: 1. Use the recommended icon and risk confused users. 2. Use a button that is absolutely clear but not necessarily in keeping with the design.

So what did I choose?

I made my decision because this was clearer than the filter icon and while I think there is a better solution that we as Android designers should work towards, the user is more important than the design.

When our design choice prevails at the sake of the user, we have not done our jobs.

So what about you? Have you struggled with the filter icon? What solution did you come up with?