I have a web page/form which users have to fill in before clicking the 'proceed' button.

Same old story I guess. It looks like this:

report name: [...]

report type: (*) PDF
             ( ) HTML

Level Of Detail: [Easy   v]

Template: [Natural v]


To make user's operations as easy as possible, most of the default values have been set.

However the number of fields is about 10 options and I fear that the page might look too intimidating.

I am thinking to put a switch on the top (basic/advanced) which would allow me to hide/reveal the options.

This would imply that, if the users land on the 'basic' page they should not feel too intimidated.

Is this a good idea ?

if so, can somebody also provide some real examples of where this approach has been taken ?

  • Can you clarify whether the additional form items are completely optional? If any of them are required, they should be displayed with the minimal view of the form. Also, what drives the difference between basic and advanced? If it's just a matter of visual complexity, I'd consider an approach that makes it necessary to see all the form fields but in progressive steps rather than all at once. Oct 3, 2011 at 11:53
  • @ToddSieling Clarification: The additional form items are not optional but they have default values. As in my example, the user is filling a form to create a report if he/she does not type the Template (it will default to 'natural'). 'natural' is a default template. A template is required (not optional) but default values are provided.
    – chack
    Oct 3, 2011 at 15:52

5 Answers 5


The longer your form is, the fewer people will use it, and very often the drop-off as it gets bigger is steep. Keep forms as short as possible. If you only need the basic information, then only ask for that.

If there are situation when you need the more advanced information, then don't put a switch at the top. You would be adding something which people have to think about before they even get to start filling the form in.

What may work is having the basic form and then at the end of it having a more options or show advanced link / button. This pattern is commonly used in Save or Print forms in desktop applications.

  • Thanks. If I go for the 'more options' at the bottom, how would it work ? would it switch to another page or would it just unveil divs and others ? also would you then have a 'less options' button at the bottom to go back ? and if so, would I have to reach the bottom of the page again ?
    – chack
    Oct 3, 2011 at 12:42

Since all of the form is required, I don't recommend splitting the visibility of fields along the lines of Basic and Advanced.

I would first look at trying to group related fields. A longer form can be made much easier to scan and understand (and feel less intimidating) when there are clear sections that organize related fields.

If that doesn't work too well, you should look into breaking the form into separate pages or sections that are shown only when the previous page or section is completed.

Whatever approach you take, you'll want to make sure people can see the parts of the form that they can change without effort, especially since you provide default values for many of them. If they can't see the fields, they might end up accepting defaults that they don't intend to.


As JohnGB states, you should keep your forms as short as needed.

The real life example for opening up extra fields in a form, is in a webshop. When you can fill in your address and alternatively a shipping address.

By default there is a checkbox checked that states that your shipping address is the same as your billing address. Once you uncheck the checkbox, the extra fields become visible (css).

In your case I would have a checked checkbox with text e.g. "Default template" If your customer unchecks the box, you could reveal the fields that need to be filled in for a custom template.

I don't know how many fields we are talking about, but you should definetely try to have them on a single page. The more pages you add to the ordering process, the more opportunities your customers have to drop out.


Short forms are definitely a desirable goal. I use a few ways of dealing with seldom-used form inputs.

Be a brave designer: make a careful decision on a default, then remove the option completely. It's usually hard to convince the project team to remove stuff (perhaps because tech people are often tweak-happy control freaks), but normal human users often prefer not having to make decisions.

Hide the seldom-used options: if you really have to include the rare options, you can hide them on an expanding panel labelled for what they are, e.g. customize formatting >>, or customize detail level >>.

Another layout option is to have a radio button selection to open the extra panel:

[o] standard page format
[ ] custom page format...

...then when the custom radio is selected, expand the panel with the three options relating to page format. This is good for when there's a couple of 'preset' configurations you want to offer:

[o] standard A4 page format
[ ] standard letter page format
[ ] custom page format...

Also, avoid generic terms like basic / advanced. Users want to know if they care about the extra details and "Advanced" doesn't help them know what to expect to find there. I like phrasing like "customize the ..." for situations like this; to my ears it has a nice "it's okay if you don't" ring to it.


Its a classical problem and the answers could be in form of progressive disclosure technique. If the form has to be long and it has to be long when there are no other way of collecting information and use techniques to resolve it. Of course limit the questions and have bare minimum.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.