1. Great post, Gary.

    Your main point – that web forms are often the player that lets the team down – is the most important one by far. Too often they are an afterthought rather than being recognised as the potential deal breaker!

    I agreed with pretty much everything you said except that “presentation wise [the required field indicator] could remain after the field”. Why wouldn’t you put the indicator before the field, so that the form filler knows whether they have to answer the question before they get to the answering bit? I talk more about this in my article “Do I have to answer this question? Mandatory versus optional fields” [http://formulate.com.au/articles/mandatory-versus-optional-fields/]

    On an unrelated point, I would be surprised if this form looked a whole lot nicer and less daunting if even just the yellow shading on the fields were removed. There’s no need for it – people are pretty darn good at recognising fields – and so it’s more visual processing and cognitive load than there has to be.

    Thanks for taking the time to share your experience and ideas,

  2. @Jessica – Thanks for the comment. Technically the required flag lives between the label and the input field. However where it is presented visually will come down to the size of the labels and the presentation space etc.

    Yes it could live after the label, presentation wise, or above the input field on the left or right. There would be a good number of factors that could influence what works with this and what doesn’t in terms of the final visual layout.

    If a form has an optional field you have to question really why it is there in the first place. If the information isn’t important enough to collect why have the field at all.

  3. Can you expand on what you mean when you say “here it is presented visually will come down to the size of the labels and the presentation space etc”? I’m not sure I understand why these things should influence where the indicator is. (Oh, and we are talking about something like a red asterisk aren’t we?)

  4. @Jessica – Personally I HATE the red asterisk, better to use the word “required” as a “required flag”

    I have found that people miss the key for the asterisk, don’t get what it is for and ignore it, or just don’t see them at all.

    We can’t play the “asterisk is standard card” as I still run across people that don’t get what it is for till they get an error message.

    In this limited space scenario I wouldn’t recommend an asterisk as it will be visually lost, but the complete word “required” is a good alternative – people relate to the word instantly, no translation required.

    However if we are forced to use a small flag, like an asterisk, then yes the limitation is less. So, it’s yes better to have it with the label.

  5. Ah I see. Your experience with the red asterisk is really interesting, and leads me to an idea for a new research piece!

    Perhaps another option for a form like this one, where the vast majority of questions are mandatory, would be to say “all questions must be answered unless they are marked as (optional)” and start the label for any optional questions with “(Optional)”. Would mean less for the reader to process and less visual noise than putting “Required” against all those questions!


  6. @Jessica – Correct, “optional” does work, however then one questions why have optional data, if you really don’t need it.

    The “asterisk” generally fails for older people, blue collar audiences and low web usage (45-50 yr olds) middle income. It’s really amazing to see people totally just not see the “asterisk”.

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