Context: I'm working on a four step form, each step has between 4 to 10 input elements of various types, from text fields to dropdowns and checkboxes. I've managed to keep it gradual and easy so the user wouldn't quit the service prematurely, feeling visually overwhelmed by the task.

Problem: It was recently required that in addition to the file upload field present in the first step, four other file upload fields should be included, all optional. They all allow the same type of files (pdf, png, jpeg) but each with different purposes in mind.

These documents will need to be digitized by the user, so I'm worried that this extra effort and visual noise will discourage many users to go past the first step.

What's the best way to simplify this process?

  • With regards to "...but each with different purposes in mind", does this mean that each upload field should be presented separately rather than as a group?
    – Matt Obee
    Commented Nov 2, 2012 at 17:33
  • @MattObee that's correct, they need to be separate, we need to tell them apart. Commented Nov 2, 2012 at 17:42

2 Answers 2


How about the pattern where they click an 'attach file' link, choose their file, then the link turns to 'attach another file', etc. Stop them after 4 files. Fogbugz uses this method and it works pretty well. See image below. It's click heavy, but it sounds like you're not allowing batch uploads anyway. File upload

  • Thanks for your answer! My apologies for not explaining it thoroughly. That is exactly the current implementation, the problem is including four more separate file upload fields. Each one would correspond to a category ex: Pictures (the current one, allows many), Birth Certificate(only one), Driver License, and so on. Commented Nov 2, 2012 at 19:45
  • I thought of collapsing them jqueryui.com/accordion with a very clear description that they are optional, or moving them to the last step (at the expense of context) where the user would feel less inclined to quit given the effort he had just put in. Commented Nov 2, 2012 at 19:57
  • Also you could bypass the Choose file button step by diplaying the UI for choosing file when they click on attach. Commented Nov 15, 2012 at 18:41

From your question, I'm not sure how likely it is that the user will need to upload many additional files. Assuming that the majority of users will only need to upload zero or one files, you may want to consider using a dropdown menu with options for various types of files. That way, instead of a long list of options appearing on your initial page (even a collapsible list can take up space and look daunting), you'll just have a single line, where the user can select what they need to upload. Being able to select from the dropdown makes it clear that the user has the option of uploading the file in that particular category. After the first upload, the dropdown could still be there, with one fewer option on the list.

This paper supports the dropdown approach. The author found that the intuitiveness of uploading a file to a folder is simplified if the options to create the folder and to upload the file are found under the same dropdown menu. Maybe a similar principle may apply to your issue where users could find it more intuitive to upload all the files from the same place.

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