When Simple Choices Become Hurdles

Thursday, September 15, 2016

There's an interesting article about why so many people stop filling out web forms with selection menus, although the very existence of same makes me hesitant to use a form at all if there is an easier alternative, due to what the author calls "flow interruption":

Most forms begin with text fields where users type in their input. But when a select menu appears, they have to move their hands from keyboard to mouse to select an option. This interrupts their typing flow and slows them down.
Don't get me wrong. I can see good reasons for web site proprietors to want to use such forms, primarily because, by restricting the number of possible inputs to a form, the owner of a site can save time. But, as the article indicates, many of these menus are tedious to use, and there are often better ways of narrowing down the range of possible inputs, such as by radio buttons or auto-completion. (The article doesn't mention that many such menus are cluttered with irrelevant choices, but that is is separate issue.)

I have two quibbles with the author. First, the author lays out, "the only time to use a select menu":
There's only one situation where you should use a select menu. That's when you want the user to answer with your specific terminology.

For example, if you want to know the ethnicity of your users, you have to provide options in your own terminology. If you don't provide specific options, users could give you vague answers. They could type in "Asian" instead of "Chinese" or "European" instead of "German". [format edits]
Actually, this is lays out the only time a web designer should use input restriction in general. Selection menus are such a pain that they should be used only in some cases where the list of choices is both large and unlikely to be known by a typical user -- and one of the other options is unsuitable for some reason. The example of ethnicity might be one of these cases -- but "home state" would not, for a site Americans are expected to use.

My other quibble is with the introduction, in which he asserts that, "Form abandonment is like someone agreeing to meet up with you but then canceling last minute." That makes users sound a little flighty. I'd add, "... when they learn that you're a multi-level marketer." The web is supposed to make things easier, not harder, than older ways of exchanging information.

-- CAV


Jim S. said...

Sure, you could choose between a text box and a select box...or you could choose to use a hybrid that's easier and more intuitive to use than either of those two, and solves every single problem you mentioned (and many more): http://selectize.github.io/selectize.js/

Gus Van Horn said...

Heh! That beats having to wallow around for "United States" in an alphabetical menu of every country in the world at the site of a company that does most of its business here, but can't just list its biggest pool of customers first. (And many other annoying things.)

Jennifer Snow said...

The bug report form for Dungeons and Dragons online eschews the use of the tab key to move to the next form box--it actually puts a tab INSIDE your current typing box for some reason.

This is the WORST DESIGN EVARR and it drives me INSANE every time I have to submit a bug. I'd submit probably 2 or 3 times as many if their stupid web form could just be tabbed through rapidly.

Gus Van Horn said...

Hopefully, that didn't stop you from offering THAT as a bug...

Jennifer Snow said...

I was afraid that the recursion of using the bug form to submit a bug with the bug form might cause the universe to be sucked into a black hole or something.

Gus Van Horn said...

Hah! Good thing you were on your toes, then.