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More and more commonly, I find that websites elect to hide or remove the submit button from forms. One obvious example is this site (along with other StackExchange sites), whose search field lacks a button labeled "Search" or "Go".

As a user who rarely uses his mouse to fill out forms, this isn't an issue for me. In fact, I often prefer the cleaner look of search forms without it. However, I imagine that it might cause confusion for certain types of users (e.g. those who click the "Google Search" button instead of pressing enter).

My sense is that this becomes more and more problematic as the number of fields increases. For example, a login form with two fields might occasionally do without the submit button, but a registration form with ten fields probably shouldn't.

Can someone point me to any research to back up or debunk my claim? Or for those of you that skipped the first three paragraphs of my question, how is usability affected by removing the submit button from various types of forms?

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Closely related, albeit specific to search forms: ux.stackexchange.com/questions/126/…. Looks like the answer has a lot to do with the technical skill level of your users (which makes sense). –  peterjmag Jul 11 '11 at 2:52
    
Looks like the answer has a lot to do with the technical skill level of your users - My first hunch, too. Keyboard jockeys might not notice, but in my (non-research-level) experience especially casual users rely on things to click on. Hand goes automatically to mouse after typing name, and is stuck there. –  peterchen Jul 11 '11 at 7:43

4 Answers 4

up vote 6 down vote accepted

How is usability affected by removing the submit button.

Well duh - it doesn't exactly improve things in terms of usability, let's say.

It might make for cleaner looks, but how far do you go in order to make your website look minimal - remove all action buttons? Minimal is not synonymous with usable.

I'm not saying people can't figure it out for the most part, but then that's not designing for all users. Stack Exchange maybe get away with it more than most, but for websites with a very wide range of users, there's no excuse for not having the button. Why would you want to deliberately alienate a minority of users?

And to not have the button on a form with more than one input is worse. It's a matter of mindset:

When you have one input you can see that when you've completed that field your are done. What next? No button? Let's press return and see if that works instead. (Watch it - you're making the user think about what to do.)

When you have multiple fields - whether you click or use tabs, you move from one thing to the next. You are in step mode. When you are done with one input, you move to the next. The more fields you have, the more you get in the 'complete this and move to the next step' frame of mind. Thus the greater the 'surprise' when you get to the last field and there is no next step (missing button). Frankly, that would be insane and no amount of explanation about trying to get clean looks is going to wash.

You want research? Watch my mum!

And anyway, what happens on mobile - find me the return key there!

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It changes the paradigm. Instead of the user thinking

I'm in a form--I need to fill out all these fields, then hit submit!

They think

I'm in a chat window. As soon as I hit enter, whatever I've typed is shared. I can just keep adding more and more lines to this.

There is also a very strong expectation that whatever they type, it is immediately saved (or saved as soon as they hit enter.) You've removed the Submit (= Save) function, so you better get it right automatically.

In a no-submit style interface, you'll see shorter contributions, and more expectation of incrementally approaching complete meaning. In a form, with no expectation of being able to go back and fix things, people will spend more time getting it right the first time.

So, depending on what you want, remove the submit button.

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Another user-type that may be confused by no submit button is a screen-reader user, particularly in a multi-field form. He or she tabs away from the last field, expecting another field/button, but finds nothing, thinks they missed something, goes back, finds nothing again, goes back... You get the picture.

One other consideration is: What happens if a user hits the return key, by accident, on a field which is not the last field.

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The following forms should absolutely contain a submit button:

  • Multi line fields
  • Mouse input fields (like check-boxes)
  • Forms with multiple submit buttons (like preview/post)

That said, no submit button can improve usability too, by forcing your user to not switch between keyboard and mouse they can be a tad bit faster, and it looks cleaner.

It's less clear if a multi field form should contain a submit button. I'd say a forum that really does something, like register, should contain a button. A form that does something simple like a search or a login might leave it out. See the humble research done here on the login, even less technical users understand you can login with enter. On a huge 'advanced search' form, with half a page of options (some most likely mouse controlled anyway), a search button would be nice.

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