The Number 1 Form Design Flaw

Designing a good form isn’t easy. It’s a balance between being terse to keep things clean but making sure there is enough info that a user can complete it without getting stuck. Then there’s layout,  asthetics, sizing and selection of controls just to name a few.

However even if you don’t get that part all right you’ll be ok as long as you don’t mess up this key item.

The number one mistake you can make is to NOT repopulate the form upon submission if something fails validation.

As a user the insult added to injury is that not only did you accidentally not complete the form correctly but as punishment you’ll have to start over from scratch!

If that isn’t bad enough it can get worse. What if the error is beyond the users control? Ever fill in a form and get rejected because the CAPTCHA response wasn’t a correct match yet you’d have bet money it was absolutely correct!?

How bad can this really be? Well here’s the “perfect storm” of user frustration.

The IE Blog Comment Form (Microsoft’s Internet Explorer Blog)

1.) The Commenters tend to be upset with Microsoft’s design choices even before they start writing a comment
2.) The IE Blog has a 15min anti spam filter that automatically denies any comment that takes the user more than 15min to write… starting from when the article page loads… but the reader doesn’t know this
3.) Readers take 5-10min to read the article and existing comments before adding their own
4.) user dives in and starts a comment… pouring their story details into a textarea (the one field even your browser won’t remember for you even if you have form completion turned on)
5.) after writing up an often long piece of feedback prose the user clicks submit

Sadly due to the hidden timer (which makes no sense what so ever) and other anti spam techniques (e.g. Counting the # of links) the failure rate for posting is well over 50%!!!

All that work lost because the form doesn’t repopulate!

It’s such a big problem on the IE Blog now that at least 25% of the comments are actually readers complaining that the comment form is broken! Just take a peek at the number of people complaining on the site! http://www.google.com/search?as_q=broken+comment+form+site:http%3A%2F%2Fblogs.msdn.com%2Fb%2Fie%2F

This brings up a topic for another post…

“Ignoring your customer’s complaints doesn’t make them go away – it erodes your public image”.

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