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What are the advantages or disadvantages using big forms? (especially in ecommerce)

I notice sites like Stack Exchange are using big form input fields with big bold labels inside of them (disappearing when you start typing), as opposed to the more traditional 11px labels to the left of the inputs.

Is this a fad or a growing trend based on solid research?

Some initial thoughts:

Pros:

Cons:

  • Requires JS
  • Once you start typing and the label disappears, what to do if you forget what the label said?
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Readability? Clickability? Why would you prefer 11px labels? Default sizes for these things look great on 480p monitors. It makes much more sense to make large, readable elements than it does to make teeny tiny ones unless you have very good reason to do otherwise. –  Ben Brocka Aug 6 '12 at 0:03
    
Sorry, I meant 12px labels, like Wikipedia - which is also how Google did it before they got their new designer. There's just something conservative about those type of forms - styled to look like they haven't been styled at all - which I believe also has their fair share of positive psychological effects. I.e. "we've been around for a long time, trust us, we know what we're doing" etc. Having said that, damn Stack Exchange's big ass forms look good! –  Mark Boulder Aug 6 '12 at 23:34
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1 Answer 1

Using font sizes of 13px or more is necessary for readability. In fact, some of us are even moving to sizes like 16px.

Here's an exercise for you. Find a book. Any book, but make sure it's nicely printed. Now, hold it as you would read it, in front of your monitor. To make the text on your interface readable, you must increase its size so it has a similar magnitude to the glyphs on the book. Because the monitor is further away from the book, you're going to need to go reasonably high.

For this exercise, you'll find that 11px isn't be nearly enough - and true enough, find real users, and you'll discover that the 'standard' 11px is unbearably small, especially for older users (middle age plus) whose eyesight has degraded.

As for field sizes, I wouldn't say SE's elements are all that large. But Fitt's Law does mandate a minimum target size in order for users to quickly click items, and naturally, if font sizes are increased, the field boxes that contain text have to get bigger too.

Finally, on the matter of disappearing labels - users will already know the content they want to enter by the time they start typing. Especially with slot-in answers on personal data. Of course, such a design means a user can't seek a particular field by label. But that's a tradeoff worth making, as self-labelling fields require that users only use a single eye fixation to spot both label and input.

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