Unified or Non-Unified Fields?


I have recently come across an interesting article on the web with advice on creating user-friendly forms. The author claims that a user will find it easier to fill in a form if fields are used to collect larger chunks of data, without dividing them into fragments. He encourages building a single field for the entire address instead of separate Street Address, Apartment, Building, Post Code, and City fields, or collecting the entire VAT ID number in a single field rather than in several:

A form built this way is allegedly faster and more pleasant to fill in, so it is probably supposed to ensure better conversion rates. Even though the author seems to make some good points, doesn’t provide any evidence for his claims.

However, when you require a database-like structure for collected data, you run into problems. An address entered in its entirety will be difficult to divide into several fields. Entering long, spliced strings of characters makes data validation difficult. Anthony suggests using prompts, which can indeed be helpful to an extent, but it will not ensure data correctness.

Overall, it all boils down to the eternal form-building dilemma: strict or loose validation. You have to find the answer for yourself based on a few aspects:

  • Is the amount or the quality of data more important?
  • Who completes the form? Random Internet users or trained employees?
  • How much did you pay for bringing the user to our form? If it’s a lot, consider simplifying the form as much as you can.
  • And, how much will you pay for correcting any incorrectly entered data? If the cost is not significant, it might be worth it and save money with better conversion on the form.
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