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MAY 2010 1

Key usability in web forms

Microsoft's form displaying errors for required / not required fields. Who knows?

Two of the most popular articles published here deal with web forms. The first one is around the theoretical aspects of web forms while the second one resides along the practical issues, coding and validating web forms. This article blends some concepts from both articles and showcases a key error that mustn't be in your web forms.

The issues with required fields

The issue with required fields is that there shouldn't be any required fields on a web form. Don't place asterisks to label required fields. Nobody follows that pattern, though most users expect a field to be required if it has one asterisk appended to its label. If you have a web form that requires user's email, password, first and last names, don't put asterisks or any other messages. Just put the inputs in the form and the user will fill them.

Moreover, if you have those fields, don't place an asterisk only next to email and password and expect users to input their names as well. That will never happen! Following this pattern, after the user hits the submit button, don't display an error message telling them that the name fields are required as well, if you didn't point that out in the first place. This is usually something that will make visitors leave your website and never use your form, which was the primary goal for them upon arriving at that page.

That is total failure! Your mistake, not your user's!

Time to guess who has web forms with such flaws. It's Microsoft! The same company that has .exe executable download managers which users need to run to download any of their software. Mac users need to run them as well to download their operating system, for example, if they wish to switch to Windows, or use it virtually. But that's another story.

The moral

From time to time, I unfortunately need to use Microsoft Office and other Windows native software. Not my option though. While trying to download a trial version of the Office suite, I was asked to sign up on Microsoft's website. The form asked for my email, my desired password, first and last names, and my country. The first two we're marked as mandatory fields, while the rest weren't. The country field was a preselected select field, which I had nothing else to do but update.

After pressing the submit button, I wasn't taken to a download page. Instead, I was shown a couple of errors I've done. I haven't inputted any information in my name fields. But I didn't know I needed to. Thank god for Microsoft that the bid I was working on required specific documents (.docs) and I really needed to proceed, otherwise that would have been the end of my journey on their website.


Try to strip down the fields of your web forms. Not the required ones, but all fields. Don't ask for unnecessary information. Ask only mandatory information, and don't label it as mandatory. If your form is simple and short, users would be delighted to input what you're asking for.

Published on Tuesday, May 25th, 2010 at 3:00 pm in usability.

About Bogdan Pop

Bogdan Pop is a young Romanian entrepreneur who runs WebRaptor. He is a web developer with awesome design skills, who enjoys writing about everyday's work and usability. He relaxes by taking photos every once in a while and by mixing french electronic music. Connect with him via Twitter.
  1. Keep it simple says: June 1st, 2010 at 10:03 am

    […] post was inspired from the recent Windows encounters I've had. Remember the post on web forms usability published just a while ago? Well, while installing the Microsoft Office Suite downloaded after […]

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