Form completion is about more than beating the competition. You’ve also got to overcome users’ short attention spans, post-work fatigue and a myriad of modern-day distractions.
When so many of your forms ask for dates, making date fields stress-free and easy to complete is important.
To help you understand the value that different date fields bring, I reviewed 37 online forms. Plus, I reveal the dream date field that will help you get ahead of the game and better help your users.
Drop Downs Mean More Work
Of the 37 forms I analysed, more than two thirds use drop-downs making it the most popular field option.
But most popular doesn’t always mean quickest and, of the date options I assessed, this approach took the largest number of clicks.
To enter a date in this way requires six clicks; one to select the drop-down and one to select the date multiplied by three. Plus, if a user needed to select a distant year, they would also spend a lot of time scrolling.
Now for the good part. By pre-selecting the information an individual can choose from, drop-downs give you a consistent data set that’s more accurate than some of the other methods available.
That’s not to say this approach is infallible: one misplaced movement with the mouse and a user could be a full month or year out.
Not great when you’re booking a hotel.
Text and Drop-down – a Rare Combination
Generally, when a very small minority of forms use a particular method, it’s a tactic best avoided.
One such approach is the text and drop-down combination which requires users to type the date, then select a month from a drop-down before typing in the year.
Not only does this require users to mentally switch from numbers to words and back again but they also have to switch from one field type to another. In addition, users are required to move hands from keyboard to mouse then back to keyboard with a scroll and click included.
Which feels like a lot of time-consuming and avoidable physical and mental effort.
Only 1 of the 37 forms we analysed uses this combination. Which speaks volumes.
Calendars – Good for Some, Bad for Others
Everyone knows what the tiny calendar icon means; simply click and all will be revealed.
This option works well when users need to enter a specific date, often connected to a day of the week. Hotels, airlines and train lines use this extensively. In the same way that you would open your diary to confirm your dates of travel, you are presented with an online version so you can check day, month and year at a glance.
For date of birth, calendars are not a good option and can take longer to complete than drop-downs. Born in 1970? You might be a year older by the time you manage to scroll to the right date.
Ask your user to scroll for long periods and they are likely to become frustrated, go too fast and miss the date they need. This has the potential to cause stress and increase the chances of form abandonment.
Middle of the Road Text Fields
The other major approach in the forms I assessed was typing text into the date, month and year fields. 12 forms asked users to enter data in this way.
Five forms let us enter text as well as numbers which isn’t a tactic to emulate if you want to generate useful, accurate data.
And four of the 12 forms failed to limit the number of numerals that could be entered which could result in a nonsensical date like 2000/02/1981 being entered.
Of course, it’s possible to ensure clean data in these instances by providing error messaging at point of data entry or before allowing the user to progress to the next page. However, this requires additional work for your team which could be avoided as the next section explains.
Introducing Your Dream Date Field
In my opinion, the dream date field allows users to enter only the right number of numerals, limited to the correct range before auto-tabbing to the next field.
For example, a user could only enter a maximum of two numerals between one and 12 in the month field before being tabbed on to complete the year.
The very best date fields incorporate technology that understands when a user enters 9 into the month field (not 09), they can only mean September and moves the cursor to the year field.
This is a feel-good, intuitive approach that removes at least two key strokes and leaves the customer feeling satisfied and considered. And who doesn’t want their dream date field to make them feel like that?
Picking the right date field for a particular date type is important. If you need to gather more than one type of date on a form you may need more than one type of date selection approach.
Get it wrong and poor design can lead to creeping doubt; if you don’t understand your user’s needs, their confidence in your service or product could be damaged.
Put the right approach in the right place and you’ll help customers enter data accurately, reduce the need for additional form technicality and reduce form friction.
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