In the past week I’ve come across two useful reviews of best practices for designing web forms. The first is from LukeW’s Functioning Form–he writes about the pros and cons of different label placement options (top-aligned, right-aligned, left-aligned). He’s posted about the topic in detail before, but this recent post offers a handy summary of the issues to consider. Print it and hang it on your wall. For lots more detail, scan the pdf presentation.
As the question of top, right, or left aligned form labels comes up often for designers, hereâ€™s a short overview of the pros and cons of each method. For illustrated examples and more details, take a look at the full document: Best Practices for Web Form Design (3.9 MB PDF).
Another recent article related to web forms addresses instructional text in the user interface. Embedded user assistance can quickly become more complicated than you might think. Too much assistance clutters the screen, but if you hide the form field explanations under tooltips, your users might never see them.
Mike Hughes offers up the compelling idea that contrary to the logic of flow, instructions should appear below the form element rather than above it. When completing a form on the web, people tend to go straight to the action–so if the help text comes first, they skip over it:
Users skip static elements, such as instructional text, because they focus immediately on downstream actionable objects. Effective user assistance design accommodates usersâ€™ natural workflows by providing instruction immediately beside or following interactive elements that constitute points of need for more information.
Now that average Internet users are more accustomed to interacting with web forms, they have higher expectations for usability. Written best practices like those above help to make these expectations explicit, so we can better understand what makes a form easy vs. annoying.