Looking for some user research and data to find out if users prefer using linear steppers or non-linear steppers in multistep forms and processes.

Any research or data would help.

Here are some examples:

non-linear stepped list non-linear stepped list

Source of images above: https://design.gs.com/components/steps


  • Can you add examples of the kind of steppers you are referring to?
    – jazZRo
    Jul 12 at 12:50
  • Hello, thanks for your response. Yes, steppers like this design.gs.com/components/steps
    – user44172
    Jul 12 at 13:20
  • I only have internal research for a project we did. In that particular case, non-linear emerged as the preferred choice over linear by a significant margin. A/B testing revealed a preference of 62% for non-linear and 38% for linear. Additionally, when using speak-aloud qualitative methodologies, 43.3% showed a preference for non-linear, 21% for linear, and 35.7% were indifferent. I won't post this as an answer because I can't share the research and also because each case is different, I'm quite sure there will be cases where linear is preferred
    – Devin
    Jul 12 at 16:03

2 Answers 2


Stepper processes are generally used to break down complex data entry forms into a more digestible format. It also means that the information being asked can be divvied up into clear categories or progression.

Because this choice is so heavily dependent on the context, a decisive research finding that could establish a pattern might be hard to come by. A non-linear stepper seems to be the obvious choice owing to it's flexibility, but there are a few standout factors to consider.

Any side-effects?

Is it possible that the user could create some un-intended side-effects for their data in the case of non-linear data input? For example, could a user enter data in step 4, that could impact data entry in step 2?

Are later steps dependent on earlier ones?

Sometimes, the data entered in earlier steps defines what needs to be asked in later steps. If that's the case, you might have to go for a linear stepper, as it's a system constraint that's probably unavoidable.

Are edits allowed for all steps?

If all steps are editable until the data is submitted, then you might have to consider side-effects and impacts anyway.

Can a user skip a step?

If a step is allowed to be skipped, that just means a section of your data is optional. In that case, is there a particular reason for the optional data to be asked at a particular step?

Can a user edit their data later?

Let's say the data was submitted, linear or non-linear. Now if you allow the user to go back and edit their data input, is restricting them to a linear stepper making sense? If it does, then you have a valid reason to stay linear.


Overall, a non-linear stepper would work in most situations, unless there's a valid reason, such as inter-step dependencies, essential progression or another system constraint.

However, if you land at a linear stepper, ask yourself whether you need a stepper at all? Because a pair of Back - Next buttons can do the job perfectly well too.


I unfortunately can't show any data (I honestly don't have any), but I'll give me 2 cents if it matters.

Much like buttons, non-linear steppers can add a lot more context to what the user is doing. Now, anything in design that helps the user understand what's happening more easily or quicker is always good.

Let's look at an example.

Here's a simple quick mockup I put together inspired by some designs from the link you shared:

steps for some job application form/site

From the two above, which do you think a user would prefer seeing. I'd say the bottom one. Mainly due to the fact that it has more descriptive labels that help give a picture of what they are doing now and what's coming next.

This comes with it's own issues if the words are still too abstract to help users get a picture of what's going on. A (bad) example below:

date list with abstract labels

stepped list of dates

I'm really sorry for not having any data on this. I'm basing this off of what I know about making good labels. I feel that the topics are definitely related.

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