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I am currently designing an interface for managing user accounts in a web application.

Essentially, in this interface, the user should be able to edit an account's profile, disable/enable/close the account, change the password, manage the account's user group and roles among other things.

I have seen interfaces where all editables are fields and there is one submit button. If fields are not to be updated, for example passwords, then the user is to leave them blank before submitting the form. One such example is wordpress:

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Another approach is to split the different functions into separate forms for each discrete area, which is the approach used by facebook:

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Which approach is better and easier to use? Currently, I am leaning towards the separate forms approach because I feel that the "leave the password blank if you do not want to update it" can be somewhat confusing to users who are not good with technology.

On the other hand, the 1 form approach is obviously quicker to fill in, although I think this approach is more prominient in applications created a long time ago.

Is the first approach (1 form) obsolete? Should I use seperate forms?

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Is this about account sign up/registration or managing an existing account? The difference is huge and there is little sense in using the same form for both purposes. –  greenforest May 1 '12 at 7:01
    
As noted in the question and the title, this question is about managing accounts (existing) and not creating new ones. –  F21 May 1 '12 at 7:44

2 Answers 2

up vote 1 down vote accepted

The difference is whether you are filling out a profile from scratch or editing one that is mostly complete/correct. If you are filling out a form for the first time, and are going to complete nearly every field, then it is better to have a single form (to a point... if a task is long enough usability suffers unless you separate it out into steps).

But when you are modifying an existing profile is is better to separate the areas to modify into chunks and edit the specific portion that needs changing. The larger your set of fields, the more important this becomes; Facebook's massive user profile necessitates splitting it into separate units, but even shorter forms can benefit from this type of separation.

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One form is almost always a very poor route to go down, even with the caveat of first time user profile generation. Think progressive disclosure: sequentially arranged forms, split by task, are a fantastic way of reducing cognitive burden and give the impression the system is less complex than it is. See here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Progressive_disclosure

look here for a great way of sign-up registration: http://www.indeed.co.uk/

moreover, progressive disclosure, or split forms if we are to keep on-topic, allow one to walk the user through a number of discrete steps to completion and feel less cumbersome to the user.

onto experienced users... Splitting forms into sections allows you to group certain field sets into common tasks. Simply put, the user does not have to wade through one big form to fill in just one or two or three fields s/he needs. User research will tell you how to group and section your forms.

summary
don't use one big form. Group fields into sections and order them how frequently used, or important they are to the user.

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