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Smart defaults

From: Web Form Design Best Practices

Video: Smart defaults

Defaults are powerful things. When we set them, there is a good chance that they'll stick around. As result, we want to be pretty smart about the defaults we set inside of our Web forms. When we are, we can help people allow, and get them through forms faster and easier. When we don't, it can create some problems. Let's look at an example of setting defaults in a form. On the eBay sell your item form, setting your shipping cost comes with a number of different defaults. First of all, the Shipping Service is set to Standard. This is the service that the vast majority of people use when they sell things on eBay.

Smart defaults

Defaults are powerful things. When we set them, there is a good chance that they'll stick around. As result, we want to be pretty smart about the defaults we set inside of our Web forms. When we are, we can help people allow, and get them through forms faster and easier. When we don't, it can create some problems. Let's look at an example of setting defaults in a form. On the eBay sell your item form, setting your shipping cost comes with a number of different defaults. First of all, the Shipping Service is set to Standard. This is the service that the vast majority of people use when they sell things on eBay.

Therefore, it makes for a great default. Most people will use it, set it, and forget it. Another example of setting Smart Default comes in Sales Tax area. A vast majority of sellers on eBay don't set a sales tax and so the default here is again set to I don't charge tax. Now, look at the difference in the UI. Shipping Service, while Standard is the default, is more likely to change. Sales Tax is highly unlikely to change, so the UI reflects that. Shipping Service has a drop-down menu, Sales Tax has an explicit called action to click change wherein you actually get the UI element to modify that value.

Depending on how certain we are that the default is right, we can be more or less aggressive with allowing people to change it. Defaults can also take a number of different forms. They don't always have to be associated with the best solution for everyone. In fact, defaults can be personalized, associated for specific used case or based on common used cases as we talked about before. Looking at the Kayak Hotel screen illustrates three of these in action. The first default, my home city of San Jose is personalized to me.

This is where I generally start my travel, and so the form remembers that and allows me to get going quickly. The next used case is associated with mobile. That is, because I'm looking for a hotel on my mobile device, chances are, I probably want one tonight. That's easy to change, but at least it tries its best to take advantage of a used case that maybe popular. And then the most common is set below. Number of guests in a hotel room and number of rooms is set to something that people are most likely to utilize. This use of defaults for Personalized, Mobile, and Most Common helps me along with the form.

You can see some of these personalized defaults in action on desktop sites as well. Once again, looking at a travel site, in this case Expedia, not only is my home destination set when I come to the form, it actually remembers the last set of values I used while searching for tickets. So leaving from San Jose to Austin and the dates I'm traveling. When I come back to Reset and redo a search, having these defaults in place make things a lot easier. Now, there's a debate about how long these things should stick around, because if I come back after two weeks, perhaps I'm no longer looking to book this trip, or perhaps the defaults can reset themselves after I book a trip.

But, keeping them around especially during a session is a great way to help people along through defaults. Why do we care so much about these defaults? As I mentioned before, a lot of them are likely to stay, but they can also really increase completion rates. Looking at a study on automatic form filling on mobile devices from a while back, you can see the difference a pre-filled form makes versus an empty form, and the empty form takes nearly four times as long to fill in as the pre-filled form. Now, in this test, the pre-filled forms were deliberately set up with a couple of places where people had to change values, but even when encountering a mistake or two in a pre-filled form, the amount of time it takes to complete is substantially smaller.

That's kind of a duh moment, but it does really illustrate through quantitative information that defaults have a role and are quite powerful. So when thinking about defaults, make sure that the ones you put in there are the ones that make a lot of sense, whether they're personalized, specific to a used case, or just the most common answer for people, they need to align with everyone's goals. Personalized defaults as I mentioned before can actually help people along especially in a single session where they're likely to just modify one or two values as they keep trying different values such as searching for the right price on a flight.

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Web Form Design Best Practices

30 video lessons · 12748 viewers

Luke Wroblewski
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