Chapter 8. Getting Input from Users: Forms and Controls

Sooner or later, the software you design will probably ask the user to answer some kind of question. It might even happen in the first few minutes of interaction. Where should this software be installed? What’s your login name? What words do you want to search for?

These kinds of interactions are among the easiest to design. Everyone knows how to use text fields, checkboxes, and combo boxes. These input controls are often the first interface elements that novice designers use as they build their first GUIs and websites.

Still, it doesn’t take much to set up a potentially awkward interaction. Here’s another sample question: for what location do you want a weather report? The user might wonder, do I specify a location by city, country, postal code, or what? Are abbreviations OK? What if I misspell it? What if I ask for a city it doesn’t know about? Isn’t there a map to choose from? And why can’t it remember the location I gave it yesterday, anyhow?

This chapter discusses ways to smooth out these problems. The patterns, techniques, and controls described here apply mostly to form design—a form being simply a series of question/answer pairs. However, they will also be useful in other contexts, such as for single controls on web pages or on application toolbars. Input design and form design are core skills for interaction designers, as you can use them in every genre and on every platform.

The Basics of Form Design

First, a few principles ...

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