paper form

Top Aligned Infield Form Labels

I never thought a form design article would be interesting and valuable enough to discuss here on EID. With all due respect to designers who work on forms, the issues never seemed that controversial. New design ideas never seemed that revolutionary.

My Take

When users first see a form, they scan it to size up the amount of time and effort it’ll take to fill it out. If they can’t scan it quickly, they’ll feel like it’s going to take too much time and effort and move on. To prevent form abandonment, you have to make your fields quick to scan pre-fill and post-fill. The quicker they are to scan, the less overwhelming your form will feel. The less overwhelming your form feels, the more it motivates users to complete it.

Of course, I was wrong. I recently read a description of top aligned infield form labels and I think it is worth sharing for two reasons:

  1. The idea is a valuable addition to our toolbox. Not just for forms, which is what the article focuses on, but for other alignment issues that come up across the board. Some of you may be using this already, either in forms or elsewhere. But if you are not, the article is worth a read just for that. I am surprised that I haven’t seen it before. Or perhaps it is a case where the design is frictionless so I use them all the time without ever realizing it.
  2. The review article is simple and well presented. Perhaps I have been reading too many marketing articles in the past few months (as you know, content marketing and social media marketing are a core part of my business so I read those extensively), but I have gotten accustomed to hype, bluster, and exaggeration. It was refreshing to read a review that was anything but.

All of that said, I am not sure I buy into all of his conclusions. He doesn’t present any empirical data, so his justification is entirely conceptual. Conceptual thinking is perfectly valid but only if it is based on solid premises and thorough logic.

For example, he suggests removing the whitespace between fields. I have seen a lot of this on paper forms, but it creates a much more dense page (think IRS tax forms). Whether this works as well online I am not sure.

Your Turn

He proffers several other conclusions as well. Check out the original article and let us know what you think of these. Are they appropriate for form design? Are there other domains and applications in which top aligned infield labels should work?

We would be very interested in your experience using this design (i.e. empirical evidence) or any logical arguments (i.e. conceptual thinking) for or against the idea.

Image Credit: IRS Form W2

2 thoughts on “Top Aligned Infield Form Labels”

  1. Do you find MS Excel’s default “Bottom” text alignment as annoying as I do? Sone things are just so rutted in MS Office. I would love server-based signatures and stationaries in Outlook, for good example.

    1. Great example. I hate that one. I am not sure if I am representative, but I almost never use bottom alignment and it just seems like such a no brainer to pick center or top. I am so glad it isn’t me who is crazy.

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