Should tab order always strictly follow visual order?

13 Nov 2009 - 4:24pm
4 years ago
2 replies
579 reads
DrWex
2006

I'm wondering if people have feedback on the use of tab to move from
field to field in a form, in a situation where some of the fields have
likely defaults.

To expand a little bit:
- the logical flow (how people think about) entering this kind of data
is A-B-C-D-E-F-G.
- in the context of the application I can reliably pre-fill values for
fields C, D, and E. (here "reliably" means >90% of users tested will
want the default values in >90% of the use cases)

What I'd like to do is have <TAB> move the user from A-B but then from
B-F, skipping the defaulted fields. I know this is going to
inconvenience that 10% of users who want to change the default, but
the alternative seems to be inconveniencing the 90% who have to hit
<TAB> four times to get to the next field they care about.

Obviously I can build and test both alternatives, and it's really a
simple bit of code difference. What I'm wondering is whether anyone
has data or experience with this kind of breaking the usual shortcut
behaviors?

TIA,
--Alan

Comments

13 Nov 2009 - 8:08pm
Chauncey Wilson
2007

Hello Alex,

Can you describe how people will use the form that you are describing?
Is this a form that people will fill in once or one where they fill in
data hundreds of times a day?

Second thought - I've done studies with complex forms that are used
for heavy data input and users get into a rhythm and what your propose
regarding skipping default fields might disrupt that since there will
be some hesitation while they think if they need to go to the default
field.

Skipping fields that could be enterable would seem to violate strong
guidelines for keyboard navigation in forms.

How do you fill in one of the fields with a default when you need to
do that? I don't understand how someone would fill in a default from
your description.

>From experience observing users tabbing through complex forms like
those in a CRM, I think that your idea of skipping common fields that
MIGHT need to be changed would result in hesitation that would through
off the rhythm of the data entry person and might actually take more
time because of extra cognitive load

I would just let them tab through the fields. They could jump using
shortcut keys in the form (Alt+underlined character) but that requires
some thinking time as well, but might work if the changes to default
fields aren't required.

Chauncey

On Fri, Nov 13, 2009 at 4:24 PM, Alan Wexelblat <awexelblat at gmail.com> wrote:
> I'm wondering if people have feedback on the use of tab to move from
> field to field in a form, in a situation where some of the fields have
> likely defaults.
>
> To expand a little bit:
> - the logical flow (how people think about) entering this kind of data
> is A-B-C-D-E-F-G.
> - in the context of the application I can reliably pre-fill values for
> fields C, D, and E.  (here "reliably" means >90% of users tested will
> want the default values in >90% of the use cases)
>
> What I'd like to do is have <TAB> move the user from A-B but then from
> B-F, skipping the defaulted fields.  I know this is going to
> inconvenience that 10% of users who want to change the default, but
> the alternative seems to be inconveniencing the 90% who have to hit
> <TAB> four times to get to the next field they care about.
>
> Obviously I can build and test both alternatives, and it's really a
> simple bit of code difference.  What I'm wondering is whether anyone
> has data or experience with this kind of breaking the usual shortcut
> behaviors?
>
> TIA,
> --Alan
> ________________________________________________________________
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16 Nov 2009 - 7:03pm
cfmdesigns
2004

>From: Alan Wexelblat <awexelblat at gmail.com>
>
>What I'd like to do is have <TAB> move the user from A-B but then from
>B-F, skipping the defaulted fields. I know this is going to
>inconvenience that 10% of users who want to change the default, but
>the alternative seems to be inconveniencing the 90% who have to hit
><TAB> four times to get to the next field they care about.

First, remember that (assuming a completely general audience) many people have no concept at all that tab does move between fields. They do all form filling by click-type-click-type.

For that fragment that does use tab:

* If you use tab to more through all the fields, yes, the 90% who don't need to change those fields save three key presses.

* If they did have to tab through those fields, though, they don't have to reacquire the tab key. They just pressed it, so they can just press it again with minimal time/effort cost.

* If tab skips those fields, and they are users who expect tab to hit all the fields, are they going to think "Cool, they skipped over the fields I didn't want to use"? Or will they think "Crap, where did the focus go? Oh, down there. If I press tab again, will it go to the next field, or will it jump back up, or maybe go God knows where?" (That is, if you violate the "standard", people who are used to the standard may not trust you to adhere to it anywhere.)

* For that 10% of users who *do* need the fields, if tab skips them, what to they have to do? Click in the field. And thus again, the message you've sent to users who expect standards adherence is that they can't trust that you will anywhere, that they are going to have to expect to manually click potentially at any time in using your app.

In the end, in the name of saving three button presses for many users, you have made things far more difficult for a small portion of the users and told every one of your users who care about standards that you don't.

(You've also annoyed the spit out of your QA team, because they asked about this and you've told them to their face that they can't plan on tab order anywhere in the product. And if it's broken anywhere else, they have to ask twice to know if it's really broken or if you were just saving a button press or two.)

A better solution may be to redesign your form. Put the defaulted fields at the end if possible. Those who want to avoid button presses can just click the end button, or they can tab through the fields even more quickly and reduce their cognitive load.

-- Jim

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