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Is there any research in this area, it seems "Sign in" is more common and hence more recommended.

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I rather use Log in/out and register instead of Sign in/out and Sign up. The Sign xx notation seems confusing to me. – BrunoLM Aug 30 '10 at 11:35
It's really hard for a non native english speaker to distinct sign up/sign in/sign out so I'd suggest to go for sign up/log in/log out. – Gabin May 7 '14 at 5:43
Any updates to this topic for 2014/2015 ?! Additionally, Based on latest research/work, when is it best use Log In/ Log Out vs. Sign In / Sign Out for enterprise SaaS software? – danielone Jun 18 '15 at 23:18

17 Answers 17

In "Homepage Usability", Jakob Nielsen (together with Marie Tahir, 2002, p. 53) recommends the use of "sign in" / "sign out" over "log in" / "log out". This is empirically based on a survey of several large-scale websites and thus supports OP's "more common" argument.

Furthermore, I second @Dan Barak in that you should use "Register" or "Join [your-service-here]" as opposed to "sign up" in order to avoid unnecessary confusion. (I cannot recall whether Nielsen and Tahir had any recommendations regarding this issue, though.)

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I agree there is confusion with the Sign in and Sign up, I rather use register instead. – BrunoLM Aug 30 '10 at 11:39
I guess the survey was targeted to english native speakers, because phrasal verbs are by far the most difficult thing to grasp for foreigners. To me, the difference between sign up and sign in is small. – Luca Molteni Jul 3 '13 at 16:33
"and thus supports OP's "more common" argument." What does OP stand for? – Tim FitzGerald May 10 '14 at 4:38
@TimFitzGerald Original poster; E.g. the person who asked the question. – API-Beast May 10 '14 at 23:16
Great answer, but I wonder whether there's a more recent research, since Nielsen himself admits that some usability recommendations change over time. – Yosef Waysman Sep 1 '14 at 17:29

While I don't have a very strong opinion here, I would bear in mind:

  • Sign In and Sign Up are quite close.
    Users might click one instead of the other sometimes.
    Either you make the difference more evident by location or graphics, or you could also use "Register or "Join" instead.
  • Make sure you stay consistent with the log out vs. sign out.
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Dan's answer is pretty complete, but I'd add one more detail: "Log in" is a valid verb where "Login" is a valid noun. "Signin", however, isn't a valid noun. On the other hand, "Signup" and "Sign up" have the same relationship, and if you use "Log in", you'll probably use "Register" as opposed to "Sign up". Then there's also "Log on" and "Logon", and of course "Log off" or "Log out". Errrr. – Rahul Aug 30 '10 at 8:12
If you don't have a login, log up using the logup form. – vladkornea May 15 at 15:12

Here's a good overview on how a few popular sites are using Sign in, Log in etc. Login/Logout vs Sign In/Sign Out vs Log in/Sign out – A short roundup

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Interesting that most of their URLs go to /login even though the words of the link say "Sign In". I suppose /sign_in is a little unwieldy as a url. – Brian Armstrong Oct 2 '11 at 7:17
Or perhaps the developers think in terms of "log in" but the interface designers think in terms of "sign in." – arlomedia Nov 12 '12 at 23:44
Since the server seems to be down: cached version – CodesInChaos Feb 4 '14 at 19:43

Just on a gut feeling - I would rather prefer using "Sign in", "Sign out" and "Register/Join/Create account" variation over "Log in".

Mostly because "Logging" something does not really convey the meaning of "entering" quite the same way as "sign in" does.

I can log any daily event, but that is just a mention of a fact while when I sign in at the door of an office building, I am giving my signature that I have entered the building and when I "sign out", I am also recording the fact that I am leaving the building...

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+1 - I would also go as far as to say that it 'sounds' a little bit more secure to "sign" into something; people are quite used to signing things safely in the real life. – Mooz May 25 '11 at 23:24

I agree consistency is key.

This means not just consistent within your own site but with the general web (if it's a web based app)

I believe you can't be too far from the 'norm' following the example of google, yahoo, etc.

Google: Sign Out, Sign In, "Create an account"

Yahoo: Sign Out, Sign In, "Sign up for a new account"

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I think that this article about the “Sign Up” button is interesting, the author changed the “Sign Up” button to “Try it Free” and clicks increased by 212%.

His thesis is that the standard “Sign Up” buttons don’t work because “they ask for blind commitment” and “do not offer any value”.

Visitors also “see common elements repeated on many sites” and “they begin unconsciously ignoring those elements (aka “habituation”)”.

He suggests:

  • Tie it to your product. If you have a SaaS for trading bitcoins: “Start Trading Bitcoins.” If you have a marketplace for artists: “Start Selling Art.” This helps prevent the button from being overlooked.
  • Give, don’t take. “Get Access” and “Sign Up” both lead to the same thing, but one makes the visitor feel they’re getting something, while the other doesn’t.
  • Compel people to act. Use action verbs such as get, start, and try.

Of course there are many variables to consider (what kind of website is yours? Changing the label of the button increases clicks, but what about new subscriptions? etc.) but it may be worth having a look at it.

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As a fairly old Englishman I've grown up understanding that signing up meant you were entering some kind of contract requiring your signature. Often these contracts or agreements had some legal obligations attached so when ever I see "Sign up" it makes me nervous.

On the other hand ,"Sign in", to me means something completely different only used to indicate a visit. No legal or binding connections.

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I personally prefer the Log In / Sign Up combination. My justification for this is that the Sign In and Sign Up will confuse people, it becomes harder for them to find what each button means unless they reach the end of the word.

Log In is pretty standard and gets the job done and takea away the confusion as well.

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Use Log in to avoid capture slips

I would be very careful with the "common usage" argument. For example: the use of sign up and sign in has a very pleasant symmetry which doubtless appeals to many people. Unfortunately, this symmetry reduces the difference by which the user recognizes the button she needs to just two letters. It's very easy to click sign up when you meant sign in.

Ultimately, the fact that everybody does it, doesn't mean that it's good UX. There's plenty of terrible UX patterns that are conventions. (Confirmation dialogs, anyone?)

For the reasons above, I would not use any option with sign in it: even if you go with "sign up/log in", the fact that it's so close to "sign in" means the user has to pay more attention, even if she makes the right choice in the end.

If you use "register/log in", there is no chance of confusion, and you lighten the cognitive load.

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Similarly, if you use register / sign in you avoid confusion, but you also fit common usage. – plainclothes Mar 31 at 17:42

As long as you use "sign in" or "log in" as opposed to "login", I don't think it really matters that much. Users understand both terms equally well from the results I've seen. I've never seen a person confused with where to log in when it says either term.

Definitely be consistent with log in/out or sign in/out either way. I'd also use register instead of sign up unless you have a good reason to use the latter; sign up and sign in are very similar at a glance.

Before anyone says anything about it in comments on this, login (and logon, logoff & logout) is bad because it is an adjective, not a verb. You don't login, you log in on the login page.

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@Rahul already made this comment to @Dan Barak's answer :) – jensgram Aug 30 '10 at 16:05

Since neither users nor sites really think about the action as signing or logging, "Authenticate" may be a useful alternative.

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But do users think of themselves as 'authenticating' when they're signing in to a website? I would have thought that this is even further down the list of things people think of doing than 'signing' or 'logging' are. – JonW Jul 3 '13 at 13:10
I personally think of the process as authentication (as opposed to authorization or signing), so there is at least one. The other terms are only familiar through previous presentation in this context. Signing your name at the end of the form is not analogous as it is for authorization, not access. Some OS settings, mobile apps, and bank sites have even switched to a "lock" metaphor. You essentially unlock (and sometimes authorize as well) through authentication. – Peter DeWeese Jul 3 '13 at 13:32

Its a way of saying mostly. Logs are basically defined as "record of observations" so by logging in it defines to check your credentials from a log. Sign in on the other hand sounds more sophisticated but less trendy.

The choice ultimately is yours ;)

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I just had this same dilemma as well. In this instance, we're really isolated ourselves to English.

I ultimately took the shortest route by using Log In for "Log" is shorter than "sign" so that's what I let my decision ride on ultimately. As you point out, many social networks and other platforms use "Sign," and others use even more (longer) outlandish copy.

I think the placement, and icon selection are almost more important than the text, however. In the instance above you can see we went for a super minimalist design in the main navigation at full responsive width, and down around tablet and mobile widths, we have a single icon to combine these areas.

Cheers, and good luck!

Edit: To be honest, I don't know why we're not using just "Login" vs. "Log In," the former being shorter still. Welcome to any thoughts on that spelling as well.

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The term 'log in' is, from what I see, considered somewhat 'antiquated' - When a few people I know hear the phrase log in, they claimed they first thought of the windows 95/98 log in screen.

I believe that it is just a stylistic change of no real importance.

Personally, I prefer 'log in', but then again I also use a beige telephone and an IBM keyboard that predates windows 95/98. So take that with a pinch of salt. I am of the impression that it is now seen as antiquated, in any case.

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I think there is no definitive answer on this.

It really depends on your demographic.

If you demographic understands what Sign in is, its ok. However, there is a case in my home country where majority of people don't understand what "Sign in" means. The "Log in" is much better understanded. So when I changed the button to "Log in" and the users of that country specific website started to log in more often.

So the answer is use "Sign in" as a best guess used by Google/Yahoo, but check if you demographic does not confuse it and understands it well.

If the people in your country do not understand it well use "Log in"

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In my opinion, We may use "Sign In" when a user "Signed" an agreement while registering to a website while on the "Sign up" Section. This means you hearby sign and enter the system.

Whereas "Login" says Ok create my Log and let me enter into the system.

I havent read any articles on this, this is just a wild guess as the names say it all.

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Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

this isn't the place for wild guesses and no research – Toni Leigh Feb 4 '14 at 12:19
My bad. Will come up with more authenticate references to this very soon. – Jawwad Ahmed Feb 4 '14 at 14:23

How about "Authenticate" and "Terminate Session"?

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We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

Why these terms? Are they well known? Do users respond well to them? Are they in common use? We'll need more information as to why you're suggesting these options. – JonW Jul 3 '13 at 14:28
Those are accurate and widely used terms for software developers. Which is why I recommend that developers read The Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Why High Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity – Jason A. Feb 4 '14 at 12:06
i can't actually think of anything worse from a users perspective short of using hex codes or something ! – Toni Leigh Mar 1 '14 at 16:43
I'm just laughing at the poor guy's username. – Matt M. Jun 17 '14 at 8:20

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