Progressive Disclosure and Forms

13 Feb 2008 - 11:19am
6 years ago
6 replies
942 reads
Adam Connor
2007

I'd like to get some opinions on the subject of dynamically displaying
form elements depending on user selection.

For example assume I have an HTML form to enter a contest, and I can
fill out this form on my behalf or someone else's. For this scenario the
form might have a field labeled something along the lines of "This entry
is for:" and the radio buttons labeled "myself" and "someone else"

Now if a user selects "someone else" the form needs to collect the name
of the someone. So should that additional field be displayed when the
form initially loads, or should it be dynamically displayed only when a
user selects the "someone else" radio button.

I've done some initial tests and found that a slight majority of the
individuals prefer it always be displayed. They were almost surprised
when it suddenly appeared after selecting someone else. Also, younger,
more web savvy individuals didn't mind the dynamic display.

As usual the decision to do this would need to be case by case. For
example if there are many fields that need this behavior it may not be
suitable, or if the need for whole fieldsets are determined by user
input this probably wouldn't be optimal (may want to go with a more
wizard-esque approach there). But for simple, smaller forms where only
one or two fields might be able to use this, what do you guys think?
Display the additional fields from the get-go, or only show them when
necessary?

-adam

Comments

13 Feb 2008 - 11:44am
Adrian Howard
2005

On 13 Feb 2008, at 16:19, Adam Connor wrote:
[snip]
> I've done some initial tests and found that a slight majority of the
> individuals prefer it always be displayed.
[snip]

I'm wondering:

a) how many of your total users ever need the optional fields, and so
know that progressive disclosure will actually happen
b) whether those folk prefer a smaller form

My guess is that (a) are in the vast majority, and that (b) is true..
so I'd tend o progressively disclose since the folk who dislike it
are in a small minority, and the overall improvements are worth it.

I might do some bucket testing to make sure...

Cheers,

Adrian

13 Feb 2008 - 1:09pm
Jeff Seager
2007

I think it's important to be both internally consistent and to have a
good rationale for choosing one way over the other. Sorry if that's
stating the obvious. The dynamic method seems better to me because it
advances the process in a logical way, opens a door as you approach
but keeps it closed if you don't.

It's also important to hear what users are telling you beyond
"yes" and "no." What other feedback, pro and con, argues for one
method over the other? How strongly do people feel about it? Some
people equate digital forms with their counterparts in paper
documents, and are reassured by static elements. Others appreciate
and quickly accept the guided experience as an intuitive benefit.

Is age a factor among the intended users? Older users may be more
surprised at the dynamic behavior, but my experience tells me that's
not necessarily a bad thing. Once they "get" it, some actually
giggle with delight at the cleverness and usefulness of that feature.

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Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=25866

13 Feb 2008 - 1:38pm
Dante Murphy
2006

<snip>
As usual the decision to do this would need to be case by case. For
example if there are many fields that need this behavior it may not be
suitable, or if the need for whole fieldsets are determined by user
input this probably wouldn't be optimal (may want to go with a more
wizard-esque approach there). But for simple, smaller forms where only
one or two fields might be able to use this, what do you guys think?
Display the additional fields from the get-go, or only show them when
necessary?

-adam
</snip>

Of the only true answer is "it depends". But here are some guidelines I
follow when faced with the same decision:

1. If it's only one field, and the dependency is direct, show but
disable the dependent field. A good example of this is "Other" with an
accompanying text box in a radio button group.

2. For e-commerce payment methods, hide and do not save values. If a
person selects "Credit Card", display the text boxes for card number,
name, etc. You can show them by default in most cases, as CC is still
the most common form of online payment, or you can hide all fields until
an explicit selection is made (especially if you are trying to push a
particular payment method, like PayPal). If the customer then switches
from CC to some other payment method, like PayPal, hide the CC fields
and discard their values.

3. For long enrollment-type forms, start with a static, single-page form
and analyze the branches, skips, and recursions. This will give you
insight on how to structure your form; then you can decide whether to
use pagination or progressive disclosure as your presentation medium.

I remember that someone posted a link to a very jumpy insurance form
that used too much PD; the targets kept darting away from the mouse, it
was like a game of whack-a-mole. Don't do that.

HTH,
Dante

Dante Murphy | Director of Information Architecture | D I G I T A S H E
A L T H
229 South 18th Street | Rittenhouse Square | Philadelphia, PA 19103 |
USA
Email: dmurphy at digitashealth.com
www.digitashealth.com

13 Feb 2008 - 12:41pm
Eduardo F. Ortiz
2008

Adam,

I've done some initial tests and found that a slight majority of the
> individuals prefer it always be displayed. They were almost surprised
> when it suddenly appeared after selecting someone else. Also, younger,
> more web savvy individuals didn't mind the dynamic display.

The decision is literally being made for you, it will depend on who your
users are.

In projects that I've worked on, where we've implemented progressive
disclosure and our audience has a wide range, we try to at least make the
different elements remain in the same place and whatever is affected, to be
below the user's view (so as not to distract them). This can be accomplished
by gathering initial data and moving optional fields below them.

Hope this made sense.

Eduardo

13 Feb 2008 - 4:12pm
Julie Palmer
2007

I'm a huge fan of progressive disclosure for several reasons.

First, as a former content manager, as sad as it makes me, I know that
users read very little of the instructional text I would so lovingly
craft for them. (We actually used multi-variant testing to show that
applications had higher conversion rates when the text was removed.)
They like to jump in and start completing form fields. I've personally
completed the wrong fields myself before, because the fields that were
not relevant to me were in the way of the ones that were.

The other reason is that forms can be overwhelming. If a user doesn't
have their senses assaulted by the entire collection of fields, some of
which are not applicable to their situation, it can be less daunting.

And lastly, it can help you solve for a host of design challenges, such
as space constraints or disparate experiences for separate but related
tasks.

-----Original Message-----
From: discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com
[mailto:discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com] On Behalf Of
Adam Connor
Sent: Wednesday, February 13, 2008 11:20 AM
To: discuss at ixdg.org
Subject: [IxDA Discuss] Progressive Disclosure and Forms

I'd like to get some opinions on the subject of dynamically displaying
form elements depending on user selection.

14 Feb 2008 - 10:55pm
Formulate
2007

Progressive disclosure is a great idea fraught with implementation
issues.

For starters, you usually need client side scripting to do it, which
reduces its accessibility.

The other big problem is what you've touched on - user attention. On
the one hand, you need to avoid people missing the 'new' questions
but on the other hand you might have users being 'surprised'.

One way to overcome all these problems is to use pagination. If you
ask 'set up' questions on your first screen, you can then provide
the appropriate (conditional) questions on the next and later
screens. No scripting needed, no surprises, no chance of missing
relevant questions.

One of the main /disadvantages/ of this approach is that the form may
not lend itself neatly to pagination.

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Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=25866

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