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Most registration forms seem to be to ask for the 'State' first and 'Country' after that, both being drop down lists. The 'State' list has the State names of USA by default, and this list is refreshed once a user selects any country apart from 'USA' in the 'Country' field. This is an American website with global services.

Now if you are a non-US user and you encounter the 'State' field first, you see a list of options which are not applicable to you. So you will have to jump and select the correct option from the 'Country' field first to get the 'State' options that are applicable to you. The 'surprise' value of a drop-list with no relavent options + the focus needed to backtrack on a form. Isn't it better to ask for the country first in such instances?

on the other hand, the standard way for users to fill addresses is to have the State first and then Country. Thoughts?

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5 Answers 5

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You can easily tell the user's country by their IP address. Therefore there is no excuse to make a user select their country from a long list. The correct country should be selected by default, the state options for that country shown, and if you want, change the field labels (e.g. "ZIP" vs "post code" depending on the country).

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Yes Country can be located to about 99% accuracy and in the US, even State can be determined with about a 90% accuracy. So long as the user can change it if it's wrong, then this is a good 'invisible' thing to do. –  Roger Attrill Aug 5 '11 at 21:15
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Easily? You can easily tell the country where the user's proxy originates, but not where the user is actually located. –  Charles Boyung Aug 6 '11 at 0:19
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Yes this seems a good idea. There are a lot of good suggestions on this post, tempted to combine them. So my regular form design will now have 'Country' first, with the default option according to IP (thanks Coronatus) and have the 'State' field along side it (thanks Roger). Makes sense to change the label of ZIP/PIN field as well. –  Kashyap Aug 6 '11 at 10:46
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I come across that 'feature' a lot!

You can improve things by having State Zipcode and Country all on one horizontal line and treating them like a chunk of information that goes together.

Then, it's not so much like you're jumping back a step when you choose the country.

It's also an opportunity to change the labels for State (eg State/Province/Region Zip Code/Postal code) after the user has chosen the country.

That - or the very first thing you ask for is the Country, and then adjust the ensuing form accordingly.

Luke Wroblewski wrote about address formats in web forms a few years back, and although in this article he doesn't address the specific issue, it demonstrates that web forms that are used to enter address details can be made to look like the very format of the address as it would be written down - as opposed to a vertical column of details.

I think the address style format, along with the 'three on a line' option helps alleviate the problem. Here's an example clip from that article.

enter image description here

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I agree with Curonatus suggestion about detecting the country and state based on the network location.

In addition, the state field applies only to some countries.

I have extensive experience with addresses in e-commerce sites in the US, and i can assure you that the state and city are irrelevant. If the user supplies you with a zipcode, you can extract the city and state. If you are using some sort of address verification service, all that is done automatically for you.

I am not sure if the same is true for all countries who use states.

We use the following fields for the US.

enter image description here

We do not ask for city and state, only ZIP. If the users do not know the ZIP code, we allow them to enter the city + state, and we try to automatically find the ZIP code for them. Almost no users select that option. We process few thousand addresses per day.

So determine the country from the user's IP address and pre-select it in the drop down list. Do not ask for the state by default.

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Good to know the stat on the zip codes, I would definitely go for this for a US specific website. But I'm not sure if it's easy to determine the state/country from the zip alone in other countries though. –  Kashyap Aug 6 '11 at 10:37
    
Same for the UK - only the house number and post code (like ZIP code) is needed. I hate being asked for my "state" (there are no states in this country) and city (do I put, for example, Westminster, or Central London, or London?). –  Amy B Aug 7 '11 at 19:43
    
For UK house number and post code is not sufficient - I have the same number as someone else in my postcode –  Mark Aug 9 '11 at 13:16
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I think showing the country field first with a dynamic state/provice/etc below or next to is the way to go.

For example, if the user chooses "Canada" the label of the State field is updated to "Province" and only Canadian Provinces are displayed. In regards to the country order, alphabetical works well, but would place the most frequently used countries on the form at the top of the list.

Example:

  • Canada
  • United States
  • **

  • Afghanistan

  • Albania
  • Andorra
  • Argentina

Sure, it may not be "standard", but it is a bit more user friendly.

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No no no to putting Canada and US at the top. Now people whose country starts with C or U can't type the country on their keyboard -- because the browser will get stuck a Canada/US. This is a huge pain for people in, say, Cyprus or UK because they need to scroll (and that takes AGES). –  Amy B Aug 7 '11 at 19:55
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I've always advocated going for country, and if US, then zip code, with a little note afterwards like, "not sure? click here to search" -- because most people do know, but those who don't, can go looking. There, you enter city/state, and the zip code is entered automatically for you -- though I must add that it was hugely annoying the one time I came across an interface where it didn't enter it for you. It expected you to remember an unfamiliar 5-digit number after the pop-up had closed.

The state/country setup is one, actually, that annoys my non-USian friends more than almost anything else. Same goes for the "most frequent countries" at the top of the list. Using IP-location seems to work best (for users) if you put the IP-identified country at the top of the list for easy picking, but have everything else under it in alphabetical order.

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maybe the interface designer wanted the users to remember the ZIP code as a way of teaching ppl to remember it always hehe –  Kashyap Aug 6 '11 at 10:52
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