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I always wonder what is the best practice for labels/hints of text fields on a web form. Here is my understanding:

  1. It is better to use a label than a hint when the form has more than 2 fields... but a totally empty field with just a label looks a bit outdated and haunted.
  2. A hint could be used to give an example of the input or to guide the user on what should be entered... but the argument here is that hints can be confused as pre-filled text. Also sometimes I see forms with hints such as "Enter your name".

So my question is, let's say we have a form with 5 fields, is it okay to show hints for 3 fields only out of the 5, since they're the only ones that need further explanation? Or should I just add hints for all even if they don't provide a value to users EX: a text field with label "Name" and hint "Enter your name"

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For clarification, it appears the distinction in question is between putting text field support either next to the text field or inside the text field.

Some issues here...

There's a difference between a hint, a label, and an instruction—a hint is an example input, a label identifies the type of information, and an instruction...well, you know. Consistency when presenting the same type of support, and distinction of different types of support, speed mental processing. The difference between a label and a hint can be as simple as italicize the hints. Switching between labels and instructions in the same form slows mental processing.

Also, hints, labels, or instructions inside text fields are not persistent so once the user clicks the field it's gone. Placing them outside but next to the input maintains the support through the entire process—start typing, get distracted, come back, now have to recall...oops. Also there's no confusion of a prefilled input.

Lastly, labels and instructions often provide effective support with hints, but hints need the context labels or instructions provide.

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  • Thanks a lot for the clarification. From a UX perspective, I totally agree with you but on a UI level I don't see lots of modern-looking forms with fields that are totally empty (with no label or hint inside them)... Such as this sample, the form is clear and easy to navigate but it looks so old (files.jotform.com/jotformapps/…)
    – G. Shebl
    Nov 16 at 21:26
  • The topic of individual form input support: labels, instructions, and examples, is interesting and important for people designing forms to master. However, the question you posted seems to vary between "old looking forms" and best practice implementing form input support. — Is "old" looking a matter of UX or UI? Does looking old decrease effectiveness, efficiency or profitability? And...what about an empty field conveys "old"? Could it be something other than the empty field that's making the form look old? Nov 16 at 22:05

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