WPI Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Computer Science Department

Mayhew's Book (chapt. 5)

Designing Fill-In Forms

1. Organization and Layout

  • Design and organize the form to support the task

  • Organize groups of items related semantically by:
    • sequence of use,
    • frequency of use, and/or
    • relative importance.

  • Keep the number of groups to a minimum, while limiting the size of groups to 12-14 chars wide and 6-7 lines high (within 5 degree visual angle).

  • Use white space to:
    • create balance and symmetry,
    • lead the eye in the appropriate direction.

  • Separate logical groups by spaces, lines, color, or other visual cues.

  • Screens:
    • High-frequency users + slow system RT --> Minimize the number of screens.
    • Low-frequency users + fast system RT --> Maximize screen clarity.

  • Keep related and interdependent items on the same screen.

2. Caption and Field Design

  • In western cultures:
    • for single fields, place caption to left.
    • for list fields, place caption above.
      • left justified above alpha lists.
      • right justified above numeric lists.

  • Justify captions and fields according to user, task, and data type.

  • Separate the (longest) caption (in a left-justified group) from its field by no more than 1-2 spaces (following the delimiter, for example, a colon). Separate one caption field group from another by three or more spaces horizontally, or by one or more lines vertically.

  • Break up columnar fields or long columns of single field items into groups of 5 separated by a blank line.

  • Provide distinctive field group and section headings in complex forms.

  • Distinguish fields (i.e., contents) from captions (i.e., labels).

  • Captions should be brief, familiar and descriptive.

  • Indicate the number of character spaces available in a field.

  • Indicate when fields are optional.

3. Input Formats

  • Consider providing system completion of unambiguous partial input.

  • Consider providing pop-up or pull-down menus for fill-in forms with many but well-defined entry options.

  • Avoid complex rules for entering data in the various fields of a form.

  • Provide meaningful (in field) groupings to break up long input formats (chunking).

  • Provide defaults whenever possible. Allow simple (single key) acceptance of defaults.

    3.1. Designing input data

  • Make high-frequency inputs easy to express (e.g., y/n)

  • Let the user specify the unit of measurement. Do not require transformations or calculations.

  • Design meaningful input data whenever possible.

  • Allow abbreviated input when it can be unambiguously interpreted (e.g., "y" for "yes")

  • A system should be "case blind" when it really does not matter (e.g., "yes", "Yes" or "YES")

  • Keep input fields short if possible.

  • Do not combine letters and numbers in a single field.

  • Avoid frequent shifts between upper- and lower-case characters.

  • Avoid uncommon letter sequences.

  • Do not require leading zeros.

4. Prompts and Instructions

  • Provide prompts when use will be relatively infrequent, inputs must be formatted, and users are not working from a source document.
    • i.e., help user with syntax
    • e.g., (Last, First Middle)

  • Prompts should be brief and unambiguous.

  • Place prompts to the right of fields, or in a MicroHelp line at the bottom of the screen/window.

  • Provide instructions for navigation and completion on the screen or through on-line help.

  • Place instructions in a consistent location across screens and make them visually distinctive.

  • Use consistent terminology and consistent grammatical form and style in instructions.

5. Navigation

  • When a form is first entered, position the cursor in the most likely default position.

  • Arrange field groups consistently with default cursor movement. Vertical groups are preferable to horizontal if cursor movement can be vertical.

  • Allow forward and backward movement by field and within fields.

  • Make protected areas on the screen completely inaccessible. Allow the cursor to rest only on user-editable areas.

  • Do not use auto tab unless fields have fixed lengths and users are high frequency and experienced.

  • Provide titles and page numbers or place markers on screens in a multiscreen form.

  • Direct manipulation increases flexibility, speed, and ease of learning for navigation through fields.

6. Error Handling

  • Allow character edits in fields.

  • Place the cursor in the error field after error detection. Highlight the error field if possible.

  • For independent fields, withhold error reporting until user request.

  • Provide semantic and syntactic information in error msgs depending on user knowledge.

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dcb at cs wpi edu / Thu Mar 30 21:23:38 EST 2006