To use a colon or not to use a colon after field labels

11 Feb 2009 - 12:55pm
5 years ago
15 replies
4435 reads
pyces
2007

Could anyone help me on the subject of whether to use colons after field
labels. I have found one accessibility paper and a few other
not-so-respected sources that indicate that colons after field labels
help screen reader users, as well as normal vision users, to expect an
input field. However, after years of including colons after field
labels, our copy dept now maintains that a colon is punctuation and
shouldn't be included after field labels. I've also found Jarrett's, "No
one cares about colons but UX people" and Luke W doesn't mention it in
his book :(. Has anyone fought this battle before? Do you have any
sources that you could point me to?

Thanks in advance,
Courtney Jordan

Comments

11 Feb 2009 - 1:12pm
Caroline Jarrett
2007

> Subject: [IxDA Discuss] To use a colon or not to use a colon after
> field labels
>
> Could anyone help me on the subject of whether to use colons after field
labels. I have found one accessibility paper and a few other
not-so-respected sources that indicate that colons after field labels help
screen reader users, as well as normal vision users, to expect an input
field. However, after years of including colons after field labels, our copy
dept now maintains that a colon is punctuation and shouldn't be included
after field labels. I've also found Jarrett's, "No one cares about colons
but UX people" and Luke W doesn't mention it in his book :(. Has anyone
fought this battle before? Do you have any sources that you could point me
to?

You have accurately summarised my article:
http://www.usabilitynews.com/news/article3112.asp

As Luke doesn't mention colons, maybe we should add "and not even a lot of
them" to the end of the summary :-)

But maybe you missed the follow-up one?
http://www.usabilitynews.com/news/article3200.asp

That discussed the problem of screen readers and colons at the end of
labels.

So far as I have been able to find out since then, it used to be the case in
the Olden Days that screen readers relied on colons as a cue about where the
label might be. These days, they rely more on the actual mark-up. So
provided that you are using "label" tags appropriately, the screen reader
doesn't need the colon. The user may or may not hear 'colon' depending on
whether the screen reader is set up to read the punctuation.

My suggestion: estimate how long it would take to take all the colons off
the existing forms. Ask your copy people if they truly wish to put that time
in, compared to all the other cool/useful/revenue-earning (delete as
applicable) things that you could be doing. Might help them to make a
decision.

Best
Caroline Jarrett

11 Feb 2009 - 1:37pm
Angel Anderson
2010

Hi Courtney,
Another thing to consider is internationalization. We abandoned the use of
field label colons for string replacement as it pertains to
internationalization. For example, in languages like Arabic that read right
to left, it looks strange to have a colon placed at what becomes the
beginning of the label. (I know, the whole page layout should be
re-oriented, but many times that is not in the cards, resource-wise.)

If you're already using "label" tags appropriately, there's probably a way
to strip out the colons programatically so you don't waste time doing this
manually. Hope this helps!

Kind regards,
Angel Anderson

On Wed, Feb 11, 2009 at 10:12 AM, Caroline Jarrett <
caroline.jarrett at effortmark.co.uk> wrote:

> > Subject: [IxDA Discuss] To use a colon or not to use a colon after
> > field labels
> >
> > Could anyone help me on the subject of whether to use colons after field
> labels. I have found one accessibility paper and a few other
> not-so-respected sources that indicate that colons after field labels help
> screen reader users, as well as normal vision users, to expect an input
> field. However, after years of including colons after field labels, our
> copy
> dept now maintains that a colon is punctuation and shouldn't be included
> after field labels. I've also found Jarrett's, "No one cares about colons
> but UX people" and Luke W doesn't mention it in his book :(. Has anyone
> fought this battle before? Do you have any sources that you could point me
> to?
>
> You have accurately summarised my article:
> http://www.usabilitynews.com/news/article3112.asp
>
> As Luke doesn't mention colons, maybe we should add "and not even a lot of
> them" to the end of the summary :-)
>
> But maybe you missed the follow-up one?
> http://www.usabilitynews.com/news/article3200.asp
>
> That discussed the problem of screen readers and colons at the end of
> labels.
>
> So far as I have been able to find out since then, it used to be the case
> in
> the Olden Days that screen readers relied on colons as a cue about where
> the
> label might be. These days, they rely more on the actual mark-up. So
> provided that you are using "label" tags appropriately, the screen reader
> doesn't need the colon. The user may or may not hear 'colon' depending on
> whether the screen reader is set up to read the punctuation.
>
> My suggestion: estimate how long it would take to take all the colons off
> the existing forms. Ask your copy people if they truly wish to put that
> time
> in, compared to all the other cool/useful/revenue-earning (delete as
> applicable) things that you could be doing. Might help them to make a
> decision.
>
> Best
> Caroline Jarrett
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
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>

11 Feb 2009 - 1:33pm
Chris English
2008

Why not create a css style for colons, so that they are only visible for screen readers.

Regards,
Chris

Chris English | Art Director
Blackboard Connect Inc.
Phone: 818-808-1791 | Fax: 818-808-1702 | Mobile: 408-904-8136
www.blackboardconnect.com <http://www.blackboardconnect.com>

Connect-ED® | Connect-CTY® | Connect-GOV® | Connect-MIL®

________________________________

________________________________
From: <Jordan at otto.dreamhost.com>
Date: Wed, 11 Feb 2009 01:55:56 -0800
To: <discuss at ixda.org>
Subject: [IxDA Discuss] To use a colon or not to use a colon after field labels

Could anyone help me on the subject of whether to use colons after field
labels. I have found one accessibility paper and a few other
not-so-respected sources that indicate that colons after field labels
help screen reader users, as well as normal vision users, to expect an
input field. However, after years of including colons after field
labels, our copy dept now maintains that a colon is punctuation and
shouldn't be included after field labels. I've also found Jarrett's, "No
one cares about colons but UX people" and Luke W doesn't mention it in
his book :(. Has anyone fought this battle before? Do you have any
sources that you could point me to?

Thanks in advance,
Courtney Jordan

________________________________________________________________
Reply to this thread at ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=38531

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11 Feb 2009 - 1:24pm
Mike Long
2007

In the spirit of reducing the number of non-essential design element,
I nix (kill) colons in user interfaces. Your copy dept is coming from
a totally different perspective in this matter and for once they are
right ;)

The best resource I have seen of late is from the iPhone User
Interface Design video. In this video, the UX guy from Apple says in
plain english that colons are unnecessary in the UI for any platform.
You will need an Apple ID to access the video in iTunes.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=38531

11 Feb 2009 - 4:25pm
Chauncey Wilson
2007

Hello Courtney,

The colon issue is one of the classic debates in UI design and it has raged
since the early 1990s.

I generally agree with Caroline, but if you have fields that are read-only
with no 3D appearance, the colon can serve as an indicator that some text
will follow. The colon serves to differentiate label from text (since in
some cases there may be no text by the label and the label will look like a
lost piece of text).

Another consideration is whether you are following the particular style. I
believe that the Vista guidelines call for a colon so if you are following
Vista, you might want to follow that style.

Chauncey

On Wed, Feb 11, 2009 at 12:55 PM, Jordan, Courtney <CJordan at bbandt.com>wrote:

> Could anyone help me on the subject of whether to use colons after field
> labels. I have found one accessibility paper and a few other
> not-so-respected sources that indicate that colons after field labels
> help screen reader users, as well as normal vision users, to expect an
> input field. However, after years of including colons after field
> labels, our copy dept now maintains that a colon is punctuation and
> shouldn't be included after field labels. I've also found Jarrett's, "No
> one cares about colons but UX people" and Luke W doesn't mention it in
> his book :(. Has anyone fought this battle before? Do you have any
> sources that you could point me to?
>
> Thanks in advance,
> Courtney Jordan
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>

12 Feb 2009 - 8:22am
Christopher Jam...
2009

copying my response back to the list...

On Feb 12, 2009 8:20 AM, "Christopher James Calo" <chris.calo at gmail.com>
wrote:

I don't have much experience with screen readers, but I think more semantic
means of communicating label-field connection are preferred. The label
element's for attribute and the aria labeledby attribute are designed for
this very purpose. In my minimalist opinion, colons are non-data ink (that
is, they contribute to distracting the eye and don't offer any useful
information). So I agree with your copy dept and LukeW: throw them out.

Tell me if you need more info on those attributes.

Cheers,
Chris

On Feb 11, 2009 1:20 PM, <Jordan at otto.dreamhost.com> wrote:

Could anyone help me on the subject of whether to use colons after field
labels. I have found one accessibility paper and a few other
not-so-respected sources that indicate that colons after field labels
help screen reader users, as well as normal vision users, to expect an
input field. However, after years of including colons after field
labels, our copy dept now maintains that a colon is punctuation and
shouldn't be included after field labels. I've also found Jarrett's, "No
one cares about colons but UX people" and Luke W doesn't mention it in
his book :(. Has anyone fought this battle before? Do you have any
sources that you could point me to?

Thanks in advance,
Courtney Jordan

________________________________________________________________
Reply to this thread at ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=38531

________________________________________________________________
Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
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12 Feb 2009 - 9:05am
Todd Warfel
2003

Every element on a screen is visual noise. Less noise means less
information the brain has to process (it's called cognitive load).

We don't use colons in any application or transaction process we
design for that very reason.

If it's not necessary, we simply leave it out.

Cheers!

Todd Zaki Warfel
President, Design Researcher
Messagefirst | Designing Information. Beautifully.
----------------------------------
Contact Info
Voice: (215) 825-7423
Email: todd at messagefirst.com
AIM: twarfel at mac.com
Blog: http://toddwarfel.com
Twitter: zakiwarfel
----------------------------------
In theory, theory and practice are the same.
In practice, they are not.

12 Feb 2009 - 1:03pm
Benjamin Ho
2007

No colons. They are unnecessary.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=38531

12 Feb 2009 - 4:36pm
cfmdesigns
2004

Possibly missed in this thread is the "origin" question. Rather than "Should I use a colon or not?", ask instead "Why did we used to always use colons?"

My thought is that it tied in with Labels Use Title Case. The label plus the field or control content made a "Title: Subtitle" comb. The colon wasn't there just by chance; it was there to signal the end of the Title part, or the division between the two.

Today, much software no long uses Title Case. Labels tend to be more sentence like in their structure, with the field or control content being the predicate or object of the sentence:

Choice for President: [John McCain]

... has become

My choice for President is [Barack Obama]

A colon is incorrect grammar in the new style of label; if anything, there should be a trailing period, but that would truly be visual noise (and would usually not sit just after the sentence predicate).

So I would say to use a colon if your labels are in Title Case, and not to use one if they are not. (And if they are in Title Case, ask the question why your label design seems stuck in the 1990s. There may be a deeper issue to examine.)

(Discussion of why Title Case was used -- and when it might still be best -- is another thread.)

-- Jim Drew
UI/UX Software Tester
Seattle, WA

24 Feb 2009 - 8:19am
pyces
2007

That is excellent feedback. Thank you. Most of our straight-forward form
labels (on web sites, not software) are still in title case (First Name
is easier to read and doesn't take up as much space as What is your
first name), while more complex labels are in the form of questions.

Courtney Jordan

-----Original Message-----
From: discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com
[mailto:discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com] On Behalf Of Jim
Drew
Sent: Thursday, February 12, 2009 4:37 PM
To: UI List
Subject: Re: [IxDA Discuss] To use a colon or not to use a colon after
field labels

Possibly missed in this thread is the "origin" question. Rather than
"Should I use a colon or not?", ask instead "Why did we used to always
use colons?"

My thought is that it tied in with Labels Use Title Case. The label
plus the field or control content made a "Title: Subtitle" comb. The
colon wasn't there just by chance; it was there to signal the end of the
Title part, or the division between the two.

Today, much software no long uses Title Case. Labels tend to be more
sentence like in their structure, with the field or control content
being the predicate or object of the sentence:

Choice for President: [John McCain]

... has become

My choice for President is [Barack Obama]

A colon is incorrect grammar in the new style of label; if anything,
there should be a trailing period, but that would truly be visual noise
(and would usually not sit just after the sentence predicate).

So I would say to use a colon if your labels are in Title Case, and not
to use one if they are not. (And if they are in Title Case, ask the
question why your label design seems stuck in the 1990s. There may be a
deeper issue to examine.)

(Discussion of why Title Case was used -- and when it might still be
best -- is another thread.)

-- Jim Drew
UI/UX Software Tester
Seattle, WA

________________________________________________________________
Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
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24 Feb 2009 - 8:25am
pyces
2007

Hi Chauncey,

Thank you for your feedback - I was hoping you would! These are just
form labels like First Name: textbox - rather than First Name text box.
My feeling has been that the colon serves as an indicator as well. In
that case, they wouldn't be non-data ink a la Tufte, as they serve a
purpose.

Courtney

________________________________

From: Chauncey Wilson [mailto:chauncey.wilson at gmail.com]
Sent: Wednesday, February 11, 2009 4:25 PM
To: Jordan, Courtney
Cc: discuss at ixda.org
Subject: Re: [IxDA Discuss] To use a colon or not to use a colon after
field labels

Hello Courtney,

The colon issue is one of the classic debates in UI design and it has
raged since the early 1990s.

I generally agree with Caroline, but if you have fields that are
read-only with no 3D appearance, the colon can serve as an indicator
that some text will follow. The colon serves to differentiate label
from text (since in some cases there may be no text by the label and the
label will look like a lost piece of text).

Another consideration is whether you are following the particular style.
I believe that the Vista guidelines call for a colon so if you are
following Vista, you might want to follow that style.

Chauncey

On Wed, Feb 11, 2009 at 12:55 PM, Jordan, Courtney <CJordan at bbandt.com>
wrote:

Could anyone help me on the subject of whether to use colons after field
labels. I have found one accessibility paper and a few other
not-so-respected sources that indicate that colons after field labels
help screen reader users, as well as normal vision users, to expect an
input field. However, after years of including colons after field
labels, our copy dept now maintains that a colon is punctuation and
shouldn't be included after field labels. I've also found Jarrett's, "No
one cares about colons but UX people" and Luke W doesn't mention it in
his book :(. Has anyone fought this battle before? Do you have any
sources that you could point me to?

Thanks in advance,
Courtney Jordan

________________________________________________________________
Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help

24 Feb 2009 - 8:32am
pyces
2007

Thank you, everyone, for your feedback. In this case, I definitely feel
colons are justified: they serve a purpose, thus they are not non-data
ink; they provide a structure and an expectation of what is coming up
next (a textbox) which further contributes to the concept of them being
data ink, and aesthetically, I feel that they make the form look more
professional and complete. Obviously, there are those that disagree with
me, and I appreciate all of your great feedback!

Courtney

-----Original Message-----
From: Caroline Jarrett [mailto:caroline.jarrett at effortmark.co.uk]
Sent: Wednesday, February 11, 2009 1:13 PM
To: Jordan, Courtney; discuss at ixda.org
Subject: RE: [IxDA Discuss] To use a colon or not to use a colon after
field labels

> Subject: [IxDA Discuss] To use a colon or not to use a colon after
> field labels
>
> Could anyone help me on the subject of whether to use colons after
field
labels. I have found one accessibility paper and a few other
not-so-respected sources that indicate that colons after field labels
help
screen reader users, as well as normal vision users, to expect an input
field. However, after years of including colons after field labels, our
copy
dept now maintains that a colon is punctuation and shouldn't be included
after field labels. I've also found Jarrett's, "No one cares about
colons
but UX people" and Luke W doesn't mention it in his book :(. Has anyone
fought this battle before? Do you have any sources that you could point
me
to?

You have accurately summarised my article:
http://www.usabilitynews.com/news/article3112.asp

As Luke doesn't mention colons, maybe we should add "and not even a lot
of
them" to the end of the summary :-)

But maybe you missed the follow-up one?
http://www.usabilitynews.com/news/article3200.asp

That discussed the problem of screen readers and colons at the end of
labels.

So far as I have been able to find out since then, it used to be the
case in
the Olden Days that screen readers relied on colons as a cue about where
the
label might be. These days, they rely more on the actual mark-up. So
provided that you are using "label" tags appropriately, the screen
reader
doesn't need the colon. The user may or may not hear 'colon' depending
on
whether the screen reader is set up to read the punctuation.

My suggestion: estimate how long it would take to take all the colons
off
the existing forms. Ask your copy people if they truly wish to put that
time
in, compared to all the other cool/useful/revenue-earning (delete as
applicable) things that you could be doing. Might help them to make a
decision.

Best
Caroline Jarrett

24 Feb 2009 - 5:28pm
Oleh Kovalchuke
2006

There are other ways to differentiate labels.

For a data processing application (the context is important here), I
recommend to show labels in smaller font size and in gray color. As a
result, not only the labels are treated as visually distinct elements, but
also the actual data stands out more. Because often the data *is* the label.

--
Oleh Kovalchuke
Interaction Design is design of time
http://www.tangospring.com/IxDtopicWhatIsInteractionDesign.htm

On Wed, Feb 11, 2009 at 3:25 PM, Chauncey Wilson
<chauncey.wilson at gmail.com>wrote:

> Hello Courtney,
>
> The colon issue is one of the classic debates in UI design and it has raged
> since the early 1990s.
>
> I generally agree with Caroline, but if you have fields that are read-only
> with no 3D appearance, the colon can serve as an indicator that some text
> will follow. The colon serves to differentiate label from text (since in
> some cases there may be no text by the label and the label will look like a
> lost piece of text).
>
> Another consideration is whether you are following the particular style. I
> believe that the Vista guidelines call for a colon so if you are following
> Vista, you might want to follow that style.
>
> Chauncey
>
>
>
>
> On Wed, Feb 11, 2009 at 12:55 PM, Jordan, Courtney <CJordan at bbandt.com
> >wrote:
>
> > Could anyone help me on the subject of whether to use colons after field
> > labels. I have found one accessibility paper and a few other
> > not-so-respected sources that indicate that colons after field labels
> > help screen reader users, as well as normal vision users, to expect an
> > input field. However, after years of including colons after field
> > labels, our copy dept now maintains that a colon is punctuation and
> > shouldn't be included after field labels. I've also found Jarrett's, "No
> > one cares about colons but UX people" and Luke W doesn't mention it in
> > his book :(. Has anyone fought this battle before? Do you have any
> > sources that you could point me to?
> >
> > Thanks in advance,
> > Courtney Jordan
> >
> > ________________________________________________________________
> > Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> > To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> > Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> > List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> > List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
> >
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>

25 Feb 2009 - 4:34am
Jeroen Elstgeest
2008

@Oleh

but also the actual data stands out more. Because often the data *is* the
> label.

I agree. With addresses and such you often don't need the labels.

Apple uses this in their Addressbook on the MAC and iPhone, but in Edit-mode
the inputfields themselves contain the labels. So in a different scenario
you may need to include labels that you previously didn't show.

25 Feb 2009 - 10:32am
Joshue
2009

Hi all,

I just joined the list. FWIW from a screen reader perspective what is important is the semantic association that is defined in the markup. So you must and identify the corresponding text that a sighted user can make out easily by using the correct HTML markup and label for/id combinations.

From a sighted user perspective, I guess people are used to seeing colons after the textual description and it may not be a show stopper to remove them, but if they are not doing any specific harm they can, as a previous poster noted, let a sighted user anticipate the text field.

Cheers

Josh

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