If an user comes from Windows based software, where in forms you navigate through the inputs with enter key and save by ctrl+s, to browser based software where the default navigation is done with the tab key and save with enter, what can I assume about user's mental model?

If it's a power user who has filled Windows based forms rapidly with only keyboard, and to put it extreme, with only number keys where you can type in a number, hit enter, type in a number, hit enter, et cetera.. should we assume the user expects same kind of behavior in the browser or should we assume he/she uses the browser software as he/she has learnt to use in other browser based forms (as in, navigate with tab and submit with enter)?

Power user functions, keyboard shortcuts etc are a great add-on to a browser software, but when it conflicts with the default way of the browser handling keyboard events, I think it is quite dangerous and too glitch-friendly code (with few exceptions such as word processing software like Google Docs.. but the main point is to think about form based software).

Thus I find myself in a dilemma and I need different views.

  • 2
    It is not entirely clear what you are asking for here. However, don't ever assume anything - can you actually ask your users? If you ask us for our opinion just means you will be getting opinions not facts.
    – SteveD
    Jan 31, 2017 at 12:13
  • I do agree we should never assume, but I think in same cases we can think of the way our users might behave in some environments based on other people's experiences or user tests. That is why I asked different views this community might have. Another way is to make user tests by myself.
    – jIsles
    Jan 31, 2017 at 12:38
  • 3
    I disagree with the ENTER and Ctrl-S assumption for Windows forms. Forms/dialogs in most Windows programs I can think of use TAB between fields and sometimes, but not always, ENTER to submit.
    – TripeHound
    Jun 1, 2017 at 11:18

5 Answers 5


We are being asked to use the enter key to tab through the form fields. The reason for this is that there are footnotes interspersed throughout the form so if the user presses the tab key they'll be interrupted with footnotes and not go directly to the next form field.

Our compromise is to do both - tab advances to everything (form fields and footnotes) and enter only advances to the next form field. Thankfully the form does not have a submit function (it's an online calculator that displays values onBlur) so we won't come in conflict with that.


In browser based application, we do use 'tab' to navigate to the next control, but we don't use 'Ctrl+s' to save online forms.
In general, most users expect the same behavior in browser based applications what they do in desktop applications. For instance, I recall one of my user-test sessions on a similar application and I observed users using 'Ctrl+s' after writing a para in Google Docs, which resulted in unnecessary interruptions by web-page-save dialog. Hence, we should try to keep the keyboard events consistent with the platform(based on the %age of users) conventions rather than creating new and contradictory ones.
For entirely new interactions we can also think of defining keyboard shortcuts for power users. More importantly, the guide to the key-shortcuts should be easy to be searched and navigate to. One such example is noteflight.com - https://www.noteflight.com/demo.

  • But aren't we ignoring "normal" users here? I mean, users that comes straight to browser based version and then tries to navigate with tab and save with enter. If it isn't clear to them why pressing enter doesn't submit the form but moves from input to another, it isn't a good design. That is why I'm trying to find the golden mean to my dilemma, if there is any. Since I was taught to design for everybody instead of just one type of users to make sure every type of users knows how to use the UI.
    – jIsles
    Jan 31, 2017 at 13:32

Look at your user base and what type of fields you're talking about. If your users are used to ENTER as a way to navigate through fields, then that is what you should use. There is an idea that Usability > Consistency.

Look at web apps that use enter in different ways, or handle form submission in ways other than just enter, i.e. Shift + Enter.

Give users what they're used to. You mentioned

If it's a power user who has filled Windows based forms rapidly with only keyboard ...

I suggest making sure that this is the user you're designing for, and not just a fringe case.


Usually I would advise keeping the shortcut keys the same when redeveloping an application for a group of Expert Users. Shortcut keys are embedded in the automatism that lets them do their job so quickly and efficiently, and they will find it frustrating to relearn everything.

However, tabbing through fields and hitting enter to submit is a very standard interaction both for Web and Windows applications. Even a user who has been used to a specific application having specific shortcuts is very likely to have filled in enough web forms to be familiar with the other convention.

In this specific case it would be better to stick to the tab + enter convention. If you really need to, you could detect that a user is trying to use the old shortcut keys, and gently remind them of the new ones.


It is always best practice to stick to interaction conventions and cater to a larger audience than to a niche group of users. I would say you should keep the controls 'Tab' to move fields and 'Enter' as the CTA ( Could be Save form or Next page) Frankly, I have not come across the Ctrl+S save functionality in offline forms yet.

As far as catering to power users goes, you could try to solve the problem in a different way by providing the ability to customize the keyboard shortcuts (only if form filling is the primary goal of the user in your software) This way you solve both problems.

Also look into what type of user input the form asks. Is the user always typing words? What about dates? Checkboxes? Radio buttons? Multiple select? Is there a specific text format they follow? Simplifying the interactions as one goes about filling a form will also help give you a better idea of what you are trying to solve here.

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