Online Forms: Why Field Labels Are More Important Than You Think

Online forms are information gathering tools. Poorly designed forms make the process harder than it has to be, but well-designed forms help information flow freely.

Happy woman using a laptop while lying on the floor.

Great online forms help the flow of information.

Think of the online forms you create as a two-way conversation between the form and the user. The clearer and more concise the form side of the "conversation" is, the more pleasant and productive the experience is for the user.

As important as it is to make the form the optimum length and to use it to ask for the exact information you need, equally important is how easy your form is to complete. 

Great Form Functionality Is as Essential as Form Content

Companies may spend significant time determining the best length for a form, and the best information to require. But if the form is visually confusing or cluttered, potential form users may decide they don’t want to bother, or they may abandon their effort before they’re done. 

Field labels must be located in close proximity to the field where the user inputs information, and there must be no question about which label goes with which blank field. Think about a form where field labels are placed on top of blank fields. It’s in close proximity to it’s assigned blank, but if the user partially completes the form and then leaves for a few minutes, they could be confused when they return. Does “City” correspond to the blank above or below the label? 

It’s usually clearest when field labels are to the left of their blanks, in close proximity. In fact, this is a preferred layout for forms on mobile devices, where a single-column format is easiest to navigate. 

Inline Field Labels May or May Not Be Best

Some form designers put field instructions inside the blank field itself. Then, when the user starts typing, the instructions automatically disappear. But this may not always be the best way to ensure form fields are completed correctly. 

Confused boy on the phone.

Inline field labels aren’t always the best choice.

For one thing, these labels can by tiny and hard to read, especially if someone is completing the form on a smartphone. And erroneous typing in a blank also makes the prompt disappear, so a user may not know right away they have made a mistake. Field prompts outside of the blanks rather than inline ensure the instructions for each blank are always visible. 

Avoid Acronyms and Other Confusing Prompts

Do you remember the first time you entered credit card information into a web shopping site and encountered a blank for “CVV?” Most people don’t automatically know what that refers to, so e-commerce sites commonly allow you to hover over the label to pop up an explanation that CVV is the three-digit number on the back of a credit card. Wherever possible, avoid using jargon or acronyms that the form user may not know, unless you also offer optional “hover” or pop-up help.

The labels that accompany blank fields in your online forms may seem almost like an afterthought, but they shouldn’t be. Their position, readability, and clarity all make a difference in the form user’s experience, and problems with any of these can lead to form abandonment. Test forms thoroughly before deploying them, asking for feedback on form usability, and you can avoid confusing form users.

PerfectForms is form software that allows users to create fully customized online forms by simply dragging and dropping form elements into place. You can easily change fonts, colors, and layouts so that your forms look great and make the user experience as smooth and easy as possible. 

PerfectForms allows you to give your attention to both the content your forms ask for as well as the labels and other visual prompts you need to serve your users best. Have a look at the demo video and see for yourself how PerfectForms helps you create the online forms that perform exactly as you need them to.

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