Predictability in online forms

I was at the website of a leading national magazine for creative types tonight and registered so I could post my business. I got through the registration process, kind of a good-sized form, then I hit the submit button.

Or rather, I clicked on the button that was where the submit button is ‘supposed’ to be.

I cleared everything I’d typed because I didn’t actually read the button. After my entries disappeared and I looked again, the buttons were labeled ‘clear edits’ and ‘add.’ Which is fine – except they were reversed from what I would normally expect to see – ‘submit’ on the left and ‘reset’ on the right.

Should I have looked more carefully? Maybe. But imagine if this was a website that was selling things, expensive things. imagine if given a form to enter your billing and shipping info and you got all the way to the bottom and clicked a button. Given two choices, if you were not a total newcomer to the Web, I would be willing to hazard a guess that you would automatically click the button on the left.

Maybe this is because I’m in the U.S., I don’t know if the order of the buttons are the same in other countries. But given that this magazine is published in the U.S., caters to certain regions of the U.S. and is focused on creative types that typically use computers perhaps more than the general population, I’m not sure whether the reversal of buttons most of us probably tend not to even notice anymore was intentional (‘let’s shake things up a bit’) or accidental.

I’m guessing in this case it was not intentional. I filled out another form on this site (carefully reading the buttons before I clicked anything this time) and got a great big MySQL error. So I know that there’s something not right there…

As a web retailer, I have a website that’s simple, straightforward and utterly predictable as possible. I emulate what works for the big retailers, I don’t have any surprises in store for potential customers, and everything is where research has shown that people tend to automatically expect it to be. They reach for a button, put the button right under their mouse where they don’t have to even think. Make the website invisible and the product will become everything.

I think that it’s a challenge to be creative under the requirement of being predictable, but that’s where the fun is. It’s not in flipping elements around, it’s in working within those retail-imposed boundaries to come up with something that’s beautiful, attentive to standards yet still offers a comfortable experience for the visitor who comes to buy, not to be confused.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *