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I've built a 3 steps registration wizard because my user must fill in 19 (!) fields. (Its a regulatory issue that can't be argued).

I split them steps to 3:
1. Account information
2. General information
3. "Success" message and link to application.

I was wondering how should I label the steps and should they all appear or not. Meaning:
1. Should I write "Step 1 of X"?
2. Should I display all 3 steps or just 2 ("Success" can be a "hidden" step)
3. Should I have all steps visible, so the user will know what's ahead of him.

Our objective is of course, to convert as many users as we can without scaring them about the 19 fields form...

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4 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I would show all three steps. but title them in such a way as to make them look simple - in particular make step 3 look like it's going to be a single button click.

Titles inform the user upfront about what to expect. The terminology hints at being quick and easy. The final step acts as the goal.

Step 1 should be simple information. Step 2 might have more detail required but the user has already got this far and they are expecting the third step to be only a single button (and maybe some helpful info to get going).

Once the user is of a mindset that there are 3 options but one of them is really easy, they will see the form as really only having two main ones. So in their mind, they've already cut the content of the wizard by 33%, so they are more in a positive frame of mind to proceed.

There is also an argument for making the titles actions to make them seem more like a single consolidated items - particularly the third step. In this way the user may see themselves working towards that final confirm action, thus helping the user along the goal-oriented path with a little more incentive.

This is analogous to checkout procedures at an e-commerce store where the confirm button is a simple last step that you just want to get to to finish.

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I agree with all of the guidance already provided, but I just wanted to interject another idea. 19 fields isn't that long really - maybe it makes sense to have all fields on one page so that the user can quickly tab through the form. Then instead of a wizard, just use a single page form followed by a confirmation page.

I tend to only use wizards for processes with really lengthy processes that have inter-dependencies. In other words, if fields on step 2 affect what fields appear on steps 3 and 4, a wizard really makes sense.

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Well, we currently have all the fields on one page and have a conversion rate that we really wish to improve. One of the ideas we are trying using A/B testing is the move to a registration wizard. So thanks for the feedback, but thats exactly what we're testing. –  Faruz Jul 18 '11 at 14:22
1  
Ah, I understand Faruz, sorry for the redundant answer! You may also try just a two step process then, since you will be testing alternatives. A two step process allows for Next and Back buttons, but without the visual overhead of wizard steps. –  Nadine Schaeffer Jul 18 '11 at 14:28
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1 - It's very much a matter of how you design the specific screens. If the number of steps and their order is very prominent, then I don't see a need for this, but if it's subtle, then maybe yes. Also, if you're going with the 2-step idea, then "Step 1 of 2" and then "Step 2 of 2" just sound repetitive and tedious. If it does have more steps, then there's more sense in it.

2 - I know it's customary to display the final step, but to me it's just misleading. It's not really a step, you don't provide any info, and it just makes your wizard look longer than it is. My rule of thumb is this - if the user can hit Cancel on the last step, or return to previous steps, then display it and mention it in the steps list. If not, then it's just a message and it needn't count as a step.

3 - Yes, make all steps visible. It's a best practice in any case, which lets the user track and anticipate his progress. But in your case it's also a big advantage because you only have 2 steps, which is encouraging for the user.

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Toda, very helpful too. –  Faruz Jul 18 '11 at 6:25
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Ideally, you'd do some A/B testing with a couple different variants and use whichever works better for your test subjects.

That said:

1) If you have a widget that shows the number of steps in the process in an implicit fashion -- say, three dots superimposed on a line that are initially greyed out and get colored in as you proceed -- then you probably don't need to explicitly announce "Step 1 of X". But there's a caveat: sighted users can get by fine with the widget, but blind users need text that their screen readers can speak aloud for them. So, you could rely on the widget for sighted users, and use ARIA alerts for the blind. Or you could put the 1 of X text in visibly anyway -- unless you have a very busy design, it probably won't detract noticeably from the sighted user's experience. It really depends on your design, but whatever you do, do keep in mind people who can't see.

2) For myself, I'd show the final step rather than leaving it hidden. Even if it's just a confirmation that they've successfully signed up, it could feel a little deceptive to hide it and then they realize that they have to do one more thing (click the link). Let 'em know up front.

3) It's probably helpful to include textual labels identifying what kind of information the user is going to need in advance, so they can anticipate that as they work through the form. But "general information" is hopelessly vague. It could mean anything from "your social security number and mother's maiden name" to "the average GDP of Peru between 1992 and 2010" (which, by the way, was 4.95%). See if you can narrow that down to something concise but more meaningful.

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Thanks. Insightful. –  Faruz Jul 18 '11 at 5:55
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