7 Form Tactics That Drive Users Crazy

There is perhaps no greater web annoyance than a poorly constructed form. Whether they’re clumsy, picky, or just plain confusing, too many forms make submitting data a cumbersome chore. The worst forms transcend mere annoyance and actually drive users crazy (or drive them away alltogether.) The sorry state of web forms need not and should not continue, however, it all begins with knowing why so many are so bad in the first place. Here are 7 form tactics to purge from your website ASAP:

  1. Insisting that passwords have certain characteristics
    It’s one thing to require that passwords be more than 3 or 4 characters. It’s even okay to reject obvious passwords like “password.” What’s not okay is forcing annoying requirements on your users, such as making them capitalize the first letter or use at least one number in the password. Even worse is when the form does not state these requirements up-front, allowing the user to set what they believe is a fine password and only telling them after the fact that they need caps or numeric characters. While your goal – keeping your users safe – is noble, going about it in this way serves only to annoy and frustrate them as they try to join your website.

  2. Insisting upon perfect formatting
    Ever type your birthdate or credit card number into a form, only to be told that you didn’t use dashes or slashes the way the form wants you to? Weren’t you completely annoyed when you had to go back and fix it before going further? Well, guess what – most of your users feel the same way if your form is doing this or similar things to them. There is simply no excuse for this other than laziness on the part of the website owner. Your users are doing you the favor of trusting you with valuable and sometimes sensitive information. The least you can do is let them give it to you in a way that’s convenient for them.

  3. Vague error messages
    Nothing is more frustrating than a form that gives you vague error messages. Just because you were a computer science major doesn’t mean your users are, which means most of them wont have the faintest idea what “could not connect to database” or “fatal submission error” means. Sometimes an error truly is technical and can only be expressed as such. However, when possible, you should make the effort to display errors in ways that are meaningful and intelligable to your audience. Otherwise they might just give up and close the form alltogether.

  4. Having to re-enter all your data just because you messed one thing up
    It’s bad enough to complete an entire form and have to go back because you left something out. (For example, not including a number in your password!) It’s even worse to have to go back and type everything out all over again, just because of the one thing you missed. Not all forms do this, but the fact that some do is another indicator that improvement is needed.

  5. Poorly coded drop-down menus
    Another inexcusable form annoyance is when you click a drop-down menu and it either:
    1. Doesn’t drop down, or
    2. Does drop down, but wont let you select any of its choices

    This, again, is nothing more than laziness from the programming team or web designer. But it’s far from trivial, for if the user literally cannot select anything from the menu, she is stuck with nowhere to go. Nine times out of ten she will simply close the form and forget about it. Clearly, this is not what you want!

  6. Requiring information that has no business being required
    Given the choice, most users wont fill in information they don’t want to give out. Webmasters, in turn, seem to have concluded “well, we’ll just require that information by not letting them submit the form without it!” Unfortunately, this is one instance where the intentions fall far short of the results. People don’t suddenly leap to share information they feel you don’t need just because you put a “Required” asterisk next to the box asking for it. Some will, but most will ditch the form or fill it out with bogus information. Neither does you any good.

  7. No clear indication that the information was submitted
    It’s best to assure users (particularly if your form is long) that the form they just filled out out was successfully submitted. That said, it’s astounding how many forms simply drop users at a blank webpage or some vague message instead. This creates nervousness and panic in the user who is now unsure of whether you received her data. Rather than risking this perception, take the time to type out a small blurb along the lines of “Thank you! Your information has been sent and received. We’ll be in touch shortly!” This leaves no doubt that the time filling out the form was well-spent.
  1. Great article!

    Too many apps are all about excessive, unnecessary forms. The more we can reduce the amount of forms we need to input, the better.

    I’d add to this list at #8 is having a name and password at all. Facebook Connect and OpenID are making this possible for a vast majority of web services.

    Web app developers should also take a look at ‘The Princess Rescuing App’ over at Lost Garden for a primer on how game dev can help non-game apps reduce form overload:
    http://lostgarden.com/2008/10/princess-rescuing-application-slides.html

    One of our big design philosophies @ Socialfly is to reduce form elements. We use a single text input form to classify many types of contact notes users want to take, and we auto-detect on keywords / phrases / structure. You can tag, add addresses, add events, and more in seconds, no mouse necessary. Twitter does this as well with #tags, @replies, and d for direct messaging. It is FAST.

    May I suggest a Facebook Connect button on this blog? The wordpress plugin only takes a few minutes to setup :)

  2. Great Article, a particular thing about Poorly coded drop-down menus is the fact that “Afghanistan comes before the US”, US would probably have multifold visitors/buyers than Afghanistan, still why do we need such countries which are not the target market of the website.

    You are right, its all about laziness than anything else :)

    Ravi Pathak

  3. No one should be allowed to run a website without reading this article. The Internet would be a much better (and less annoying) place!

  4. Robert Paulson Mar 08, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    If devs didn’t understand it earlier no one article will not help em =)

  5. I would add one more that absolutely drives up the wall:

    CAPTCHA or verification codes that are unreadable.

    They put the characters so close together you can’t distinguish one from another, they put them on curves, bold them and make them so black one character merges with another, then they put strike-throughs through them, and just to make it even harder they put them on cluttered backgrounds that also merge with the type.

    Then they have the call to say this is to make sure you are human.

    Most humans wouldn’t be able to read some of them. It would take a computer to decipher the mess some of these verification systems use.

  6. No one should be allowed to run a website without reading this article. The Internet would be a much better (and less annoying) place!

    Cheers to Dan. Nuff Said

  7. Bad form design (and many related issues) stem from the personality traits of the people who make them. If you look at psychometric analysis of the traits of programmers, web engineers etc, you will find they are a long way distant from those of people in ‘caring’ occupations. If you want to fix the problem, you need a supervisor of the right personality to check the coders work.

  8. Thanks for this one, so many forms are self-defeating in that they ostensibly encourage visitors to communicate with a site while at the same time making it difficult to do so.

    Forms represent web content as much as a blog post or an article does, and like all content they function best when made with the user in mind. Focus on enabling the user to achieve their objective with the minimum possible effort, the fewest possible fields and the maximum opportunity for the user to tell you what they need and want, then you’ll have a tool that encourages communication rather than discourages it, and your measurable action stats will go up too.

    Thanks,
    Jeremy Paton
    Boston SEO

  9. Great article (and a great form for comments too!)

    I find that a simple, two or three field form is usually all that’s required, no sense in making users jump through hoops.

  10. Great Article

  11. @nick punt

    Not everyone has a Facebook login, you know. Actually, your suggestion could generate its own #8 – ‘forcing users to sign in with logins for external sites with which they might not be registered’.

  12. Great article!

    I hate to re-enter passwords because it must have numbers.

  13. Great article, I can especially relate to the required characteristics of passwords, that one drives me absolutely nuts. I think strength indicators are much more appropriate. Good list.

  14. With longer forms (multiple pages), I do like the scale showing how much further I need to go to complete the form.

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