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User Interactions: Do users prefer to tab or click through forms?

December 1, 2017 9:41 am
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Reading Time: 3 minutes

Surveying users quickly when I want to know the answer to a small user interaction question is apparently becoming my new habit when I’m bored. This time I had a bug I wanted to investigate. The bug was only triggered if a user tabbed into a field. I know I tend to tab into a field. But does my behaviour represent a majority? I have no idea, I would guess on the whole, no. I tend towards being a lazy power user. So I couldn’t reliably expect my own behaviours to represent that of other users user interactions.

Luckily for me working in a medium sized company, I can quickly survey a group of 100 or so people and receive a good 40% responses. Not a bad CTR, that. So I fired off a quick email and waited for the responses to roll in

New Email
To:Everyone @ work
Subject:Quick question for you...

Imagine, if you will, you’re completing a form on a website. You move from the first form field which asks “How ace are you?” and onto the next form field “Seriously, how are you this brilliant?”. What a friendly form, you think to yourself. Okay, stop. How did you move between those two form fields? Did you:

A) Tap/click the next field you wanted to go to with your finger digit/use your mouse.

B) You pressed the tab button on your keyboard / tab controls on mobile keyboard

C) something else – please let me know what



Out of 100+ people in the company 400 in total responded to this email before I collated all the results. The final tally is below. So, if you are curious how you stacked up against everyone else, now you can find out and in this instance there was a real split here:

An amazing 50% of you Tap/click the next field you wanted to go to with your finger digit/use your mouse.

And an equally amazing 50% of you pressed the tab button on your keyboard / tab controls on mobile keyboard

There was some crossover in the user interactions across device types. Some of the respondents said they’d tab at desktop and stab at mobile. I feel them. I tend to do this too.

Some people expressed annoyance with multi-column forms not tabbing correctly (and damn right too, multicolumn forms are poor UX anyways, so to not work with tabbing as well… grrrrr)

Only one of the respondents pointed out they tend to use auto-complete-my-details functionality when it was available. Which was actually a little surprising, but I didn’t highlight it as one of the user interactions they could choose so I’m not that surprised that I’m walking around in a state of shock. Just more like a “huh” surprise.

What does all this mean?

Well, not much on a personal level. I don’t think anyone is judging you for getting busy with your mousing finger. Nor do I believe that I have ever seen any graffiti on a toilet wall saying that users that tab through a form should get in a bin. So don’t worry about your form filling capabilities, keep doing what’s working for you I say.

However in the context of a bug I found, this is quite interesting. This bug is only triggered when the user interaction meant tabbing into a form field. I wasn’t sure how many of the humans would slide into a form field like that and now I know, it’s probably a problem and may go some way to causing drop offs.

Regardless of your personal preference, on key reason to making sure your form works well for tabbing as pointed out by a lad at work is:

Worth remembering that many “differently abled” users will navigate sites using the Tab key, so this bug you’ve identified will also be an Accessibility issue (specifically, point 2.1.1 of W3C’s advice)

Never forget your users with accessibility requirements. Not just because they deserve as good an experience on the web as everyone does. But because if you are, chances are that you’re probably messing up some cornerstone rule of HTML by doing something weird for some weird javascript powered visual effect as opposed to meaningful user interactions

If you see this post, why not add to my tally by telling me in the comments if you prefer to tab or click in a form.

This joint was penned by @elmarko