by anthony on 07/28/11 at 7:24 pm
Nothing turns users off more than a long and complicated form. There are many ways designers can simplify their forms to make them faster and easier to fill out. Using top aligned labels on your form fields is one way. Replacing your text field CAPTCHA with a lighter one is another. Even cutting the number of optional fields you have helps.
But an innovative way to make your forms faster and easier to fill out is to use unified text fields to gather the information that normally takes multiple fields to gather. This dramatically reduces the number of text fields and dropdown boxes you have on your form. And the less text fields and dropdown boxes there are, the faster and easier it is to fill out your form.
This is because users don’t have to tab as much. With too many text fields, users have to constantly type-tab, type-tab and type-tab, hopping from one field to the next. This slows users down because it puts them in a stop and go rhythm, while mentally preparing what to type for each new field. Also, think about novice users who still use their mouse to move to next text fields. That’s a lot of unnecessary hand movement on and off the keyboard that can make filling out forms difficult.
What’s more is that unified text fields mean less dropdown boxes for the user. Users don’t need take their hands off the keyboard to click and scroll through a dropdown box. Keyboard users also don’t need to fiddle with the arrow keys to select from a dropdown box. The time and effort it takes for users to give their information is less than before.
When you use unified text fields with top aligned labels, the user’s visual fixations are less and move in a single, vertical direction. When the form fields are not unified, the user’s visual fixations are more and move in various directions horizontally and vertically. This means that users are not only doing more work with their hands, but they’re also doing more work with their eyes, slowing them down even further.
Another benefit to unified text fields is getting the user’s information in a format that you want without sacrificing ease of use or speed. Many forms force users into the format they want by using multiple textfields. Unified text fields combine those multiple text fields into one so that users can fill in their information the way they want without excessive tabbing.
At the same, unified text fields can suggest to users the ideal format to use. Using in-field suggestion text, users can clearly see what format they need to use before they even lift a finger. Most users will follow the suggested format because they don’t want to make a mistake. Because the format suggestions are in-field and visually going in a single, vertical direction, it makes it easy to see and follow. Users will often ignore suggestion text that’s off to the side because it’s harder to see and it feebly associates itself with the field.
There are many benefits to unified text fields. It’s important to note that you can’t unify all types of fields. The example above show a few common fields you can unify without a hitch. If the goal of your form is efficiency and ease of use, unified text fields can give your users the boost they need. As innovative as the technique is, it’s wise to test it on your users so that you can get the best results possible. Every situation is different, but make no mistake about it, the unified text field is definitely a new technique that designers should try, test and consider.