> As an aside, I'm sending this from my web-based version of home email > (it gets complicated). I fill in a text field to write this, then if I > go bottom left, the most obvious button is actually 'inbox', which > loses my inputs. I've done that more than once. So why am I looking to > the bottom left? I don't think I do that on other forms.
Here's what I've learned from many years of usability testing and some
eye-tracking studies of forms.
What users really do is look for 'next box for me to type in'. They'll also
recognise, but not quite so strongly, 'next control for me to interact with'
(radio buttons, check boxes, drop downs).
At each step, the eyes (mostly) drop vertically from the box just filled in,
turn left to read the label, back to the box, fill in (or interact with
control), drop vertically again.
(Exceptions: sometimes the eyes will read a few labels and then track back
to fill in a few boxes, e.g. if the labels are extremely predictable as in a
name/address block, or if the questions are strange or invasive. Sometimes
the eyes will read a few boxes e.g. if the boxes are pre-filled. Sometimes
users just do inexplicable things. So now back to the general pattern).
At some point, the boxes to type into run out but users don't know that
until it happens. The eyes have dropped vertically, and look: no more boxes.
Ideally, at this point, the vertical drop puts you directly onto the button
that finishes this page of the form: send, submit, next, ok, whatever is
appropriate in the context.
If the button isn't just there in the vertical column, then the eyes hunt
around a bit, looking for the correct button.
If the button vertically under the left-hand end of the form fields, or the
closest to that position, happens to be 'Reset' or 'Cancel', or in Nick's
example 'Inbox' - then oops, a lot of people will click it reflexively
because the 'button' visual quality overrides the text written on it.
If the user doesn't WANT to finish the form, then the hunting pattern
varies. That's when the general convention of 'next' being on the right and
'previous' being on the left kicks in.
I think Brett's result of 'next' working better on the left is happening not
so much because 'next' is on the left, but because that puts 'next' directly
under the left-hand edge of the form fields. Would be handy to see s few
examples, please Brett, so that I can verify this guess.
If you read Luke's discussion on this topic with this information in mind,
then it's obvious why his separated Cancel and Submit buttons didn't work.
It's because in that design, Cancel was placed most directly under the
left-hand edge of the form fields. Would have been fine if the buttons were
the other way around.