As enablers of online conversations between businesses and customers, Web forms are often responsible for gathering critical information—email addresses for continued communications, mailing addresses for product shipments, and billing information for payment processing to name just a few. So it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that one of the most common questions I get asked about Web form design is: “How do I deal with international addresses?”
But before we get into the nuances of address variations, it’s worth pointing out that addresses have a commonly understood structure. Through years of experience with mailing and postal systems, people have a pretty concrete idea of what constitutes an address block. This common understanding is so definitive that eyetracking data suggests, once people begin filling in a set of input fields that make up an address, they often cease looking at their labels. The basic structure of an address is so familiar, people don’t need the guidance labels provide. Read More
In a previous Communication Design column, “Refining Data Tables,” I alluded to the importance of Web forms in online commerce, communities, and creation. As arbitrators of checkout, registration, and data entry, forms are often the linchpins of successful Web applications.
But successful Web applications tend to grow—both in terms of capability and complexity. And this increasing complexity is often passed on to and absorbed by a Web application’s forms. In addition to needing more input fields, labels, and Help text, forms with a growing number of options may also require selection-dependent inputs.
Selection-dependent inputs are, in essence, a pretty simple concept: Once a user initially makes a selection from one or more options in a form, the user must provide additional input related to the selected option before submitting the form. Figure 1 illustrates this behavior by showing two steps from the eBay Create a Download Request form. After an eBay seller selects the Sold option in the Listings and records drop-down list, the form presents additional input fields for selecting a date range. Were the user to select a different option in the Listings and records list, completing the form would require a different set of additional options. Read More
Many Web application designers strive to reduce the amount of instructional text that appears in the user interfaces they create. A likely part of their motivation is the perception that, if explaining how to use something requires too much instruction, it probably isn’t that easy to use and, therefore, has room for improvement in its design. Another motivating factor might be the tendency for people not to read any on-screen instructions, just like they tend not to read product manuals.
This type of thinking also applies to Web forms. When possible, designers strive to utilize a minimal amount of text to explain how users should fill in the different input fields in a form. In cases where forms absolutely require additional explanations or examples, a bit of clear text adjacent to an input field tends to do the trick, as shown in Figure 1. Read More