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Here's my form.

enter image description here

Now, I'm curious if I could remove the 'Continue' button and just have the form move to the next stage when someone correctly fills everything in.

This is a bit different than When is an auto-saving form appropriate?- because there's more questions to answer.

Here is another, similar, question but is a different context: Auto Advance to Next Field

Suggestions?

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I would also say no. As mentioned that data entered may be valid but not necessarily correct. Users find some reassurance in reviewing forms like your example before hitting continue. –  Ronan Costello Feb 21 at 16:37
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As a user, the absolute first thing I would do every single time is click "back" so I can look over everything and ensure I didn't make a mistake of some sort. And if "back" didn't exist, I'd just close the page. Not worth the hassle. –  Izkata Feb 21 at 19:35
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How do you know the questions are correctly filled in? Maybe the user spelled their name wrong. Maybe they entered the wrong email address. It is impossible for a computer to know if a form is "correctly" filled in. Users like to review forms before they click submit. Don't take that away from them. –  Barry Fruitman Feb 21 at 20:26
    
@Izkata Could you elaborate on 'click back'? Do you mean back via the browser's back button or do you mean using a form's, own, back button. –  Alan Klement Feb 24 at 14:22
    
@AlanKlement The form if it has one - but then again, I know enough about backend implementations not to trust the browser's back button when dealing with forms - it may or may not work correctly. –  Izkata Feb 24 at 14:55

7 Answers 7

up vote 26 down vote accepted

There is a difference between auto-saving and auto-advancing, so I wouldn't necessarily prescribe the benefits of one to the other in terms of user experience and usability.

The problem with auto-advancing is that you are removing control from the user. Users like to feel like they are in control. If the form starts to advance them through the workflow before they "feel" they are ready, they are going to feel a lack of control:

Most flame wars you read about user interface issues focus on the wrong thing. Windows is better because it gives you more ways to resize the window. So what? That's missing the point. The point is, does the UI respond to the user in the way in which the user expected it to respond? If it didn't, the user is going to feel helpless and out of control, the same way I felt when the wheels of the dough bathtub didn't turn the way I pushed them, and I bumped into a wall. Bonk.

UI is important because it affects the feelings, the emotions, and the mood of your users. If the UI is wrong and the user feels like they can't control your software, they literally won't be happy and they'll blame it on your software. If the UI is smart and things work the way the user expected them to work, they will be cheerful as they manage to accomplish small goals. Hey! I ripped a CD! It just worked! Nice software! Wooooooooooo!

To make people happy, you have to let them feel like they are in control of their environment. To do this, you need to correctly interpret their actions. The interface needs to behave in the way they are expecting it to behave.

Thus, the cardinal axiom of all user interface design:

A user interface is well-designed when the program behaves exactly how the user thought it would.

As Hillel said, everything else is commentary. All the other rules of good UI design are just corollaries.

Source: Controlling Your Environment Makes You Happy by Joel Spolsky

The other problem beyond how the user feels about the experience is that you do not necessarily know that what the user entered is correct. It may be valid according to your regular expressions and form validation, but it might not be what the user intends to enter. If the form advances as soon as they have entered valid data you are taking away their ability to review to ensure it is correct data.

Giving them a button allows them the ability to review, plus it gives them the sense of control that they are using the form instead of the form using them.

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Switched to this to the answer. Again, the user's anxiety is my #1 concern. –  Alan Klement Feb 21 at 17:03
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+1 for Hillel citation! Who knew, the old Jewish age knew about good UI, eh? :D... –  Ben A. Hilleli Feb 21 at 23:32
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"A user interface is well-designed when the program behaves exactly how the user thought it would." However there is a huge problem with this argumentation, because going by it we should go back to the old DOS UI's. It is by the hands of creative UI designers that we have gotten to the point where we are now and although in this explicit case for the reasons outlined I do believe it a bad idea to auto advance, one should never design purely based on user expectations. –  David Mulder Feb 22 at 0:38
    
@DavidMulder: That is not a correct interpretation of the quote. The point is not to only stick to what has been done in the past. The point is that an interface, even if new and creative, should be intuitive. Similar to the saying "good design doesn't require a manual", which says nothing about designing to only what the user already knows. –  Charles Wesley Feb 22 at 6:54

Bad idea, for at least 2 reasons

  • you take away control from the user
  • even if your validator says the fields are correct, the user might have made a typo somewhere and has no chance to see it before moving to next section
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Good points, not being able to review answers might be an anxiety. If the questions were only radio buttons maybe.... –  Alan Klement Feb 21 at 16:32
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I'll go with this b/c the most important concern I have is creating anxiety for the user - that can't be disputed. –  Alan Klement Feb 21 at 16:45

I agree with the accepted answer, that:

  • You take away control from the user
  • Even if your validator says the fields are correct, the user might have made a typo somewhere and has no chance to see it before moving to next section

Something else to note as well is that the user will not always complete the form fields in order.

In your example above, what happens if someone answers the radio buttons first because it takes one click, and fills in their name last? There is no foolproof way to ensure that someone has finished entering text into a text field, and leaves more questions than answers.

When would the form submit? When one character is entered? When the person tabs out of that field? If it submitted on tab out, what happens when a person leaves the cursor in the field while looking for the submit button?

While auto-validation and auto-saving work well, auto-submission is something that doesn't lend itself to being good UX.

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"There is no foolproof way to ensure that someone has finished entering text into a text field, and leaves more questions than answers." Good point too. –  Alan Klement Feb 21 at 17:11

Don't do this.

  1. It doesn't make sense at all for many common form inputs. Any text fields or multi-select controls (checkbox lists, multi-select lists boxes), sliders, number spinners, or other free-form input simply doesn't have an obvious "done" state. Sure, you could make a regex that waits for a ".com" or ".edu" or ".org" or ".co.uk" or... at the end of an email text box, but...
  2. It doesn't allow a user to process what they just typed into the input before it begins processing, so if they enter example@gmial.com they probably won't even have the time to see the typo before you advance the form. Even if you set a timer, you're going to have to set a timer that allows for the slowest hunt-and-peck typist to find their place and review what they entered.
  3. All fields on your form must be required, of course. Because otherwise you can't tell if a field has not been filled out yet or will not be filled out.
  4. What about people who like to review a form before they advance? You are actually punishing people who are trying to make sure the data they give you is correct.
  5. Have you ever, ever seen a user be happy when a page turns without them hitting a button and telling it to do so? Would you be happy to be filling out a form and have it disappear while you are filling it out?
  6. Along the same lines, users do not like when their expectations are violated. So, even IF all of the above were not true, even IF there were some benefit to doing this, you're going to be making users unhappy by doing things that they are not expecting you to do. With their data in the form, no less.

Best case scenario, you have a form with only dropdowns and radio buttons and you have users who do not make mistakes in answering or mousing (obviously a touch screen would be a nightmare), but at the same time have no prior expectations to how online data entry works. What benefit do you gain by taking the time/cost to implement this? One button click per page.

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I would say NO and here's why:

  1. How would the form know if all the data was correct?

    a. The form wouldn't, the user would, but a form could know if they were valid.

    b. Users like to look things over to make sure everything is correct prior to continuing on.

  2. Based on the above, how would the form know when to auto-advance?

    a. The only way the form could know is if all fields were required.

  3. How would you get back to the prior step if you were continually auto-advancing?

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The 'form may not be valid' point doesn't worry me, b/c having a submit button doesn't protect against invalid data entry. Your point 1b I agree with. The form would have every field required but you're correct if the form had optional parts. Going back doesn't worry me either b/c having a submit button doesn't denote going back either; they go back the same way whether it auto advances or not - either with a browser's back btn or add a link to go back. –  Alan Klement Feb 21 at 16:44
    
My validity response was based off of your question title, "Should Forms Auto Submit (Auto Advance) When Questions Are Correctly Filled In?". My guess is your wording is incorrect and that's not really what you meant to ask. You probably meant to ask, "Should Forms Auto Submit (Auto Advance) When All Questions Have Been Filled In?". –  Code Maverick Feb 21 at 19:18

2 main UX problems I see:

1) Potential to tap on the wrong radio button on the last step, especially on mobile.

2) Also in Luke W's book he talks about how users enjoy reviewing a form briefly before clicking the continue/submit button. You'd remove their opportunity to do that.

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Ahh mobile & mistype. Nice point. –  Alan Klement Feb 21 at 17:02

No you should not. Mechanisms like this have been abused in the past by programmers of malicious dialers:

Dialer

(source, a German Forum about computer fraud)

Once the user entered the letters OK the dialer would connect to an expensive telephone number (it says 29 Euros per connection here) and the field would be locked in that state.

While those dialers are no longer seen in the wild today auto advancing forms may remind older people of those dialers.

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Damn....that is sneaky... –  Alan Klement Feb 22 at 0:56
    
@AlanKlement Well, fortunatly this is no longer possible as of broadband internet connections and the German laws made it very hard for those dialers in the end. But we learn: One really should read before pressing buttons and things! –  TimWolla Feb 22 at 1:07

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