Web Form Design Best Practices
Illustration by Petra Stefankova

Field length


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Web Form Design Best Practices

with Luke Wroblewski

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Video: Field length

While labels ask the questions people need to answer in our forms and help and tips can help them along, it's actually the input fields that really provide the forms where people can provide their answers. So one of the ways we can help people along with what's an appropriate answer is by creating the right field length for our questions. Field lengths, when appropriately sized, help provide valuable cues about the type of answer that makes sense. When those field lengths are random, it really doesn't do much to assist people. Let's take a look at an example.
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Watch the Online Video Course Web Form Design Best Practices
3h 46m Appropriate for all Oct 14, 2011

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In this course, interaction designer Luke Wroblewski shows how to create web forms that encourage visitors to enter information and covers ways to capture input without the use of forms. The course covers boosting conversion rates and customer satisfaction, organizing the structure of forms, aligning and grouping form elements, assigning the correct input field types, validating input, and handling data entry errors. The last chapter highlights alternatives to static forms, such as using dynamic inline forms, using web services, and leveraging device capabilities, which can be used to gather additional information or replace a traditional form altogether.

Topics include:
  • Understanding why forms matter
  • Deciding on the form length and structure
  • Adding tabs to a form
  • Creating required fields
  • Adding input masks
  • Creating selection-dependent inputs and actions
  • Displaying success and error messages
  • Adding inline validation
  • Understanding gradual engagement
  • Enabling touch and audio input on devices
Subject:
Web
Author:
Luke Wroblewski

Field length

While labels ask the questions people need to answer in our forms and help and tips can help them along, it's actually the input fields that really provide the forms where people can provide their answers. So one of the ways we can help people along with what's an appropriate answer is by creating the right field length for our questions. Field lengths, when appropriately sized, help provide valuable cues about the type of answer that makes sense. When those field lengths are random, it really doesn't do much to assist people. Let's take a look at an example.

Here, the eBay registration form is using a lot of meaningful field lengths. What I mean by that is the ZIP Code is generally the size of a ZIP code, the Phone Number; three fields, three characters, three characters, four characters is exactly the size of an appropriate phone number. Every other input field, whether it's e-mail address, Create Password or Re-enter Password is a consistent size with enough room to enter a valid answer. There is not really a default size for how big your e-mail address should be as compared to your Password.

So these fields are exactly the same for some visual consistency. Note, however, they've all been made big enough for the input that was being provided. Let's see what happens when a form arbitrarily sizes every input field to the exact same length. Now we'll see here that First Name, Last Name, Address, and ZIP Code are all exactly the same size. However, there's been a bunch of help text added to the ZIP Code field letting people know that they should only enter five digits. This is because the input field doesn't have the right affordance.

You're not sure if you should use the five digit plus the dash (-) and additional four digit format of a ZIP code or if you should only supply five digits. As a result, the form has had to rely on input text. Contrast this to the eBay example we saw earlier where the right size of the input field help to guide people to what the input should be like. Here's another example. In this case, on tick, all the input fields seem to be sized arbitrarily. Should your company name to be significantly longer than the Web address you pick for tick, is your e-mail address really that much longer than your first name or last name? Of course, people might not necessarily ask all of these questions explicitly, but anytime you pause people and make them think about the types of answers they're providing, it's an opportunity for confusion.

Rather than using arbitrary field lengths, use meaningful ones and then provide enough room for every other one with the consistent lengths. WordPress, same question; my username is a significantly less than my e-mail address and man, that's a really long field for e-mail, probably better off to just make these the same size. Overall, field length best practices, when possible use field length as an affordance to help people answer questions accurately. Otherwise, just consider using a consistent length that gives people enough room to provide a valid answer.

Those two factors will help you guide people towards the right types of input into the fields you're providing for them.

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