How Important is Label Placement and Alignment in Forms?

January 21st, 2010

Form Field Eye TrackingTo some, it may seem like a trivial or even mundane point to even give any thought to this at all. But choosing suitable placement for your form labels can be very important indeed.

The experts at UXmatters have done extensive research in this area and have a lot to say on the subject.

In an article, published earlier this week, they provide detailed answers to a question about Label Alignment in Long Forms.

And that article is essentially a follow up to their Label Placement in Forms article published over 3 years ago but still as relevant today as it was then.

Using eye tracking tests with users, they tested the time spent filling forms and, specifically, the eye saccades between labels and entry fields. This basically showed how much effort was required by the eyes to scan the form and by the brain to make sense of what it was seeing.

Here’s my interpretation of the results:

  1. Placing labels above the entry field is preferable in most cases as users can view the label and input field at the same time. It’s important to leave space between each input field and the next label.
  2. When placing labels to the left of fields, although left alignment allows a user to quickly scan down the list of entries, right alignment is much better as it keeps the label with the input field and greatly reduces eye movement and effort.
  3. A caveat to right-aligned labels placed on the left is that it’s very important to try to keep them all to a similar length to avoid large areas of ragged whitespace. Shorter, concise labels are better but they must still make sense.
  4. Bold text labels are almost always a bad idea. Users find them harder to read and they pull the focus away from the input fields. The increased time with bold compared to normal labels in the tests was surprisingly significant.
  5. For long forms, placing labels above entry fields increases the length of the page so might not be such a good thing. Long forms can often be improved by grouping entries and group labels can also add visual confusion when labels are above fields.
  6. These are not rules, they are guidelines. More important than any of this, especially for long forms, is to ensure that users can easily comprehend the form, that they scan easily and that users are only presented with requests for essential information so that they are not daunted by the form and are willing to complete it.

This is just a very brief summary and doesn’t do the detailed articles justice at all. I highly recommend that you read both articles. If you thought this was a mundane subject before, these articles and the huge number of comments they provoked will open your eyes and hopefully make you a better interface designer.

We are planning a complete revamp of element property editing in GUI Design Studio (among other things) so this has been vital information for us. I think there are improvements we can make everywhere in this area!

Here are the article links again:
Label Placement in Forms
Label Alignment in Long Forms


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