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I've come to learn that label alignments have their purposes: top-aligned / right-aligned for faster completion (usually for forms asking common information) while left-aligned for slowing down completion (like advanced settings or those forms where you require users to be more cautious in filling out the form).

My question is, is it okay to have two different form alignments in one website if those two forms have different purposes? Or is consistency / faster completion rate more important (so it's best to just stick with right / top aligned labels and never bother with left-aligned labels)?

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Can you add a sketch or image to your question? Just to help ensure the answers you receive are from the same understanding of top/right aligned. I'm pretty sure I'm following, but would like verification. –  Josh Bruce Mar 23 '13 at 13:34
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3 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Yes, if there is a good reason to have two different style forms.

Remember that you should break any UX guideline when you have a good reason to. Consistency is one of those, but it is one that you should look at carefully before breaking it.

The biggest test is going to be whether users find it odd or problematic. Make your decision primarily from what you learn in your user testing.

Edit: As an example, take a look at the way that gmail handles forms. For the sign in form, they use a top alignment, but for the settings form they use a left alignment. I've never heard of anyone complaining that this confuses them, as each form has a clearly different purpose (as the op was asking).

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Who downvoted without a comment? It's practice on UX.SE to make a note of why a post is downvoted. The answer is a valid UX-answer - and if you don't agree, tell us why. –  Benny Skogberg Mar 23 '13 at 16:11
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@BennySkogberg That was me. I was part way through writing a comment explaining why, but I got interrupted and returned just now to find the page still open. In the post's favor, everything it says is true. However, it doesn't really say anything that's not intuitive. (Even people without any knowledge of UX can say "break the rules if there's a reason.") It cites no studies or books and gives no empirical examples of why the statements are true, but instead just expects us to take the opinions as fact. I downvoted because despite being sound advice the claims need to be better supported. –  3nafish Mar 23 '13 at 23:07
    
@JohnGB Do you have any studies or empirical examples that would support your claims? –  3nafish Mar 23 '13 at 23:11
    
@3nafish My claim was that if a two different forms have different purposes, it may be justified to have different alignments. This is done so regularly that you probably don't even notice. But as an example, I've added one that most of us should be able to relate to. –  JohnGB Mar 24 '13 at 1:01
    
@JohnGB Thanks for the edit. I've removed my down-vote. I like it when claims are backed with evidence. –  3nafish Mar 24 '13 at 1:03
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Anything that adds cognitive load should be avoided. Different looks (alignment in this case) may get user to think about other things than you want them to. This is especially true in the checkout process of an e-commerce site.

Imagine a user on step four of five starts to think about why the background suddenly changed, why the logo was omitted, or why the alignment looks different. Am I still on the same site or is this somewhere else? Can they steal my VISA credentials and get me billed $1,000,000? I'm leaving!

The example above is just to illustrate what might happen if users doubt the site. Users read about secuity breaches too -- and anything that make them think something is wrong is bad.

If the forms have different purposes, then it's not as obvious as in my example. Most users may not even notice the difference since they may only encounter one of the two forms. Still, consistency is key even if the forms are separate. I would not make different designs since it's bad for users, bad for business and bad aesthetics.

Recommended reading: Don't make me think - Steve Krug

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Well, like John mentioned, there is no wrong in breaking an UX 'norm' if you have a strong reason to do so. But, personally speaking, I find the inconsistency in some forms annoying. I understand that you want the users to pay attention to what they are filling up in certain sections, and there are ways in which you can accomplish this without using different alignments.

You can section your form and highlight the high priority section in a different background color or something. And to be explicit, just add a simple line before the section that, they should be extra-careful while filling up the coming questions. By, changing the background and adding a text, you are breaking the flow of the user in a not so bad manner and cautioning them to refocus on the task they are doing.

If you share additional details of the form, we can surely work out a custom solution for your problem :)

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