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Let say we have a form with 50 or so elements. It is a data entry form and is in the format the user is expecting based on standardized industry paperwork.

My question is should required fields that are dependent on previous selections be disabled/grayed out vs show/hide?

Is it better to have a stable screen with disabled fields or a screen dynamically building that jumps? I get mixed results from my user base.

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4 Answers 4

up vote 6 down vote accepted

50 or so elements

in the format the user is expecting based on standard

Based on these criteria I'd suggest a stable screen. Unless you have a lot of freedom in changing the format into some thing more web-friendly, I wouldn't apply web-specific techniques (expand/collapse) to the form.

I'd say this based on converting a lot of paper-based forms to web-based, maintaining the same copy and instructions, at a former job. Good luck!

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Grayed out and disabled is best if the form is dynamic. The graying indicates to the user the field is disabled and not being able to tab into it doesn't confuse them over why they can't type anything.

It's best to not dynamically change the form too much on the user. Hiding/showing areas is fine as the user selects something (for example if they check a box then show them a new area to fill in additional data like an address). This can get a little too overwhelming (like showing entire sections of forms) and especially confusing if you do things like showing things above where they currently are based on selections.

In the end, it's best to turn to your user base for the answer. Get them to test out whatever idea you're trying out. Consider it like a test audience for your form. If they like it, you nailed it and move on. If not, get feedback from them on what they didn't like and (more importantly) why. Then reiterate, improve and try again.

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I don't like it when a form changes too much. Since your users know the form I think they'd appreciate you providing them with the same look they are used to - it will take them less time to get used to your system and feel comfortable with it.

If applicable, you can break the form into a few sections (using "Next") and in each section ask for the needed questions only, based on previous selections.

You can checkout the US Visa Application form. They use PDF forms so it looks exactly like the printed version. You still see all the parts but you cannot reach those you are not supposed to fill up.

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I suggest You to prepare and provide A-B testing on this issue. Everything depends on users preferences and habits and is closely relative to usage scenarios of Your service/application.

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