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I usually take NNGroup information as sacred but I watched this video where they say that an input should not contain a placeholder on the inside box and while the explanation itself is correct they do not take on a case where you have a label above the input and a placeholder inside but they insist on leaving the input empty.

Are there any studies on this ? I couldn`t imagine a search field without a placeholder or other inputs where you use the placeholder to show an example of the expected user input.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jrigp2L-P-0

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  • I once used an desktop application that required an account to login. This was using placeholders in its interface, and automatically auto-focused on the first field. Because the field had focus, the interface no longer displayed the placeholder, so I kept trying to login with my username, while the field accepted an emil – Ferrybig Oct 18 '19 at 9:29
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It's quite an in interesting title that NNGroup decided to pick for this.

Placeholders by themselves are never the issue

If you scan the internet, most studies talk about the following things that make placeholder "harmful":

  • Using them as replacements for labels

    This phenomenon became a common occurrence in the early days of minimalist approach in mobile design. Hence, people had to be told explicitly to not use placeholders. Also, placeholders disappear when the user starts to type so it is an incredibly unreliable way of guiding the user.

  • Improper implementation

    Placeholders that are actually text that needs to be deleted are a big no-no.

  • Accessibility issues

    • If the placeholder text is too light or is too small, it basically infuriates the user rather than aiding them.

    • Browsers do not translate some attributes and placeholder is one of them

    • Screen readers also might skip them

So, as long as they are used properly, they aren't harmful.

Some references:

UXblog's article on Medium

UX Collective's article on some bad practices & some alternatives

Smashing Magazine's article on the attribute's accessibility issues

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    You've missed out on the situation where placeholders are styled the same as actual values, users then forget to fill out fields as they look like they have a value when glancing over the form. Sounds silly but have seen it happen! – Martyn Oct 23 '19 at 19:23
  • You've also missed what I think is one of the most important issues: once you start typing something you can no longer see the placeholder. So if you were using it to provide a hint about the format (which might be complicated, and remember that complicated might mean something totally different to you than to your users), it needs to be memorized before starting to enter the details. And if the placeholder is not to be used for something important like format information, why use it at all? – tremby Jan 6 at 3:30
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I think placeholder attribute are used to represents a short hint (a word or short phrase) intended to aid the user with data entry.

According to w3c on placeholder

The placeholder attribute should not be used as a replacement for a label. For a longer hint or other advisory text, place the text next to the control.

Use of the placeholder attribute as a replacement for a label can reduce the accessibility and usability of the control for a range of users including older users and users with cognitive, mobility, fine motor skill or vision impairments. While the hint given by the control’s label is shown at all times, the short hint given in the placeholder attribute is only shown before the user enters a value. Furthermore, placeholder text may be mistaken for a pre-filled value, and as commonly implemented the default color of the placeholder text provides insufficient contrast and the lack of a separate visible label reduces the size of the hit region available for setting focus on the control.

Personally I prefer to use placeholder in input forms. Hope this standard article helps to solve your dilemma.

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  • What use is a short hint to aid the user with data entry if it's made invisible as soon as the user starts to enter some data? Not everybody has as good a memory as you might. – tremby Jan 6 at 3:31
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Yes. There are studies.

Eyetracking studies show that users’ eyes are drawn to empty fields. At the minimum, users will spend more time locating a non-empty field — a nuisance. At the worst, they will overlook the field completely—a potential business-killing disaster.

The related article details "7 main reasons why placeholders should not be used as replacements for field labels".

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