Form labelling - left or right justified?

2 Feb 2005 - 5:42pm
9 years ago
6 replies
931 reads
Jason Brock
2004

Greetz,

Does anyone know of any usability research papers discussing complex
screen based form design/layout.

Thanks in advance,
Jason.
--

Comments

2 Feb 2005 - 6:25pm
DeleteMe
2005

On February 2, 2005 06:42 pm, Jason Brock wrote:
> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted material.]
>
> Greetz,
>
> Does anyone know of any usability research papers discussing complex
> screen based form design/layout.

Remember, the justification of a field often depends on the locale that the
application is running in, and this justification is often manipulated
directly by the underlying widget set. DIfferent widget sets do this via
different mechanisms.

--
Jason Keirstead
http://www.keirstead.org

3 Feb 2005 - 5:11am
Ben Hunt
2004

Jason Brock wrote:

>Does anyone know of any usability research papers discussing complex
>screen based form design/layout.
>
I don't see why you need a research paper, Jason. The principles are
logical:

0) Labels should precede their fields (proper visual syntax)
1) Sets of related labels should be visually associated
2) Labels should also be visually related to their respective fields (to
make it easy to identify the correct field for the label, or the label
that describes the current field)
3) Labels should be scannable (to facilitate initial comprehension)

(See http://www.webdesignfromscratch.com/grouping.cfm for tutorials on
visual design techniques for grouping)

For 1, proximity and alignment are the most appropriate visual mechanism
(although repeated styling may also work, as well as encapsulation e.g.
groove round a field set, but alignment is most important)
This means that either left-aligning the labels of common

For 2, labels should be positioned spatially as close to their fields as
possible.

For 3, left-aligning sets of labels is far preferable to right-aligning
them, for scanning, as we scan in from the beginnings of lines.

The first conclusion, therefore, is that it's preferable to left-align
labels.

However, if some labels are much longer than others, you risk losing
proximity between shorter labels and their controls, when it can be
tempting to right-align to maintain consistent proximity.

The options for varying label lengths are:
a) to right-align,
b) to wrap longer labels,
c) to edit labels to something more compact and meaningful (possibly
relying on tool-tips or context-sensitive help for elaboration when needed).
d) or to use some other visual mechanism to bind labels and controls
(such as using dividing lines or alternating row colours)

From looking through previous forms I've designed, I notice I've
avoided right-aligning. I think that b and c are good practice, while d
is probably to be avoided in forms, on the principle that the best
solution probalby should not rely on *adding* any detail/ink, but in
rationalising what's already there. However, adding white space between
is a very effective method too.

Hope that helps,

Ben

3 Feb 2005 - 9:16am
Gerard Torenvliet
2004

> >Does anyone know of any usability research papers discussing complex
> >screen based form design/layout.
> >
> I don't see why you need a research paper, Jason. The principles are
> logical:

<rant>
The principles may now seem logical, but principles 2 and 3 that you
list (dealing with visual grouping) are part of the design lexicon
largely due to the *research* work of Gestalt psychologists. I'm glad
designers now see these principles as logical, but it wasn't always
so.

The denigration of research that I sometimes see on this list is not useful.
</rant>

> 0) Labels should precede their fields (proper visual syntax)
> 1) Sets of related labels should be visually associated
> 2) Labels should also be visually related to their respective fields (to
> make it easy to identify the correct field for the label, or the label
> that describes the current field)
> 3) Labels should be scannable (to facilitate initial comprehension)

-Gerard

--
Gerard Torenvliet
g.torenvliet at gmail.com

3 Feb 2005 - 10:05am
Ben Hunt
2004

>
>
>>I don't see why you need a research paper, Jason. The principles are logical:
>>
>>
>principles 2 and 3 that you
>list (dealing with visual grouping) are part of the design lexicon
>largely due to the *research* work of Gestalt psychologists. I'm glad
>designers now see these principles as logical, but it wasn't always
>so.
>
>The denigration of research that I sometimes see on this list is not useful.
>
>
Gerard, I'm about as aware of the research work of these Gestalt
psychologists as a couple of reproducing fruit flies are aware of the
"Origin of the Species".

They're capable of doing it successfully without understanding the
research that explains exactly *why*, and surely designers can design
using their own creative powers, experience, and instincts (from
whatever source they originate)?

I've no wish to discount the place of research, or offend Jason in any
way, but I know I don't need to look up a research paper to be able to
make a design decision.

- Ben

3 Feb 2005 - 10:18am
Gerard Torenvliet
2004

Ben,

What I'm trying to say is that the design ideas that you hold to are a
part of established practice because of research. If we want design to
get better, then there is always a place for not relying on the
received logic, but going back to basic and applied research.

I agree that layout principles are logical. I laud the practitioner
who wants to perhaps *extend* what we now think is logical by going
back to first principles and research.

-Gerard

BTW, your analogy to fruit flies being aware of the "Origin or
Species" might be misplaced. The people using our designs (the fruit
flies) don't need to know the principles that generated those designs.
The creators of them surely do.

--
Gerard Torenvliet
g.torenvliet at gmail.com

3 Feb 2005 - 1:21pm
Lada Gorlenko
2004

BH> They're capable of doing it successfully without understanding the
BH> research that explains exactly *why*, and surely designers can design
BH> using their own creative powers, experience, and instincts (from
BH> whatever source they originate)?

To me, there are four levels of knowledge (in any field):

1. WHAT - you are aware of what you have to do (in order to build a
website, bake a cake, raise a child);

2. HOW - you can actually do it (build a website, bake a cake, raise
a child);

3. WHAT FOR - you understand the goals and purpose of the final
product in order to make choices on what suits the goals best (is a
website what the client really needs? is a cake the right meal for
the occasion? will a child be a solution to someone's problem?)

4. WHY - you appreciate why things are the way they are and why good
things are good and bad things are bad. Your understanding is no
longer domain-specific; you make connections and spot patterns
across domains.

One can be successful stopping at HOW, no doubt. That's called
craftsmanship. WHAT FOR is called professionalism. WHY is called
thinking.

Lada

ps. On the topics of knowledge/ignorance.
A few years back Communications of ACM published "The five orders
of ignorance: Viewing software development as knowledge acquisition
and ignorance reduction" by Phillip Armour. Highly recommend for
general reading. (The only full version I found so far is restricted
to ACM members; drop me a line, if you haven't got an access, I'll
share the .pdf file.)

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