[this whole feature is a new one for us so we don't have real-world data]

I have a form that requires the user to select one of predefined items (equivalent to, say, shipping addresses). The user is unlikely to add the address beforehand (adding addresses is a neccessary evil, not a goal in itself) and ordering them to "add the shipping address ->here before you can select it from the dropdown" is inconvenient. So I replaced the simple dropdown with a control that basically looks like:

(x) new ( ) existing: [------ V]
... here comes a new address form
... or the existing address's info

Upon selecting an entry from the dropdown the 'existing' radio button is automatically selected.

Most users will only have one address, maybe two, but I can expect at least some users to have a different address for just about every order. Basically these are the extremes and I don't really expect much of the middle ground.

We want to minimise mistakes as changing the address after submitting the form requires paperwork (snail mail etc.), which makes an "oh sh!t" moment much more aggravating. On the other hand, we want to make the process as streamlined as possible.

In its current incarnation the form requires some action from the user, be it selecting an existing address or entering a new one. We considered preselecting an address and have a few ideas. Please specify which you'd consider the best in this situation:

  1. Do nothing (force the user to do something when submitting the form)
  2. Only autoselect when there's a single predefined address
  3. Allow the user to choose a default address:

    • on the "all addresses" list, by an icon/button
    • in some other (discoverable) place, via a dropdown
    • as a "make this address the default" checkbox/button right on the order form
  4. ...?

All suggestions are welcome.

2 Answers 2


First, you mention that mistakes in submitting a shipping address create a considerable headache, so definitely bias your choices in favour of making sure you get the right address over making it as streamlined as possible. The smoother the road, the easier the car slides off.

For your question about the default selection, you have a few good ideas in the mix. I really like number 2, where there is only one choice, auto-select that one. Where there is more than once choice, I would require a choice to be made (keeping in mind the cost of a mistake). This way the person has to look at the list and think about which address to use, rather than to just accept default info.

  • 1
    Forcing a selection, in this case, seems like the right route. Sep 17, 2011 at 17:30
  • When there are multiple choices I might remember the last one used per @ChrisF's suggestion (user chose an existing address-> use that one, decided to enter a new one -> don't use the last-added address but default to a new address form). One of our teammates really insists on providing a default choice, so I'm trying to find a reasonable (not too error-prone) way of implementing it. Sep 18, 2011 at 14:54
  • It would be worthwhile to go back to the team member demanding a default choice and ask for the reasoning behind it. You provided a very good reason to not provide a default, which is that an incorrect address creates a frustrating experience, and you can provide evidence that defaults are often accepted without thinking by users, so you have a good reason to change what might be a habit or assumed best practice by your teammate. Sep 18, 2011 at 16:47
  • Followup idea: if you can't persuade your teammate to not provide a default, another idea is to show the default choice in faded text and provide a small challenge to the user to accept the default like "Use this address? [Yes] [No]". That way you get both the advantage of default info AND an error-prevention step. Sep 18, 2011 at 16:49
  • It seems that the UI will have to be redesigned anyway. Thanks a lot for your input though. Sep 20, 2011 at 8:23

You should only supply defaults where the default makes sense.

If the user has to enter a value and that value must be different for each user then it's safer to supply no default.

In your example if you are expecting the vast majority of users to only have one address, make the entry of that as streamlined as possible. Allow for multiple addresses, but make the selection of another address a definite action.

If you default to the last selected address then you could present the user with a "use this address" page. This would have the following actions - the obvious "Yes", one to select one of their other previously entered addresses, and one to add a new one. These last two could be combined into a drop down that listed the first line of each address with a final "New" selection. Selecting that would take them to the "create new address" page.

  • The user does have to enter a value (a bunch of values actually) at least once, because there's no possible valid shipping address for every customer. I'm not sure about adding an intermediate page (the order is a single-step process -- product selection is very simple). I do like the idea of remembering the last choice though (a nice superset of "select the only one"). Sep 18, 2011 at 14:37

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