I am designing a web form. In the form, there are several fields, values of which are dependent upon a key field. I have 2 options to present the form to the user.

1) Make the user do a search on the key field first and then present the form with the dependent fields populated.

2) Present the form and have the user enter a value in the key field. Populate dependent fields via an AJAX call as soon as the user leaves the key field. I may have to put a 'loading..' image next to the key field in case the AJAX call takes longer.

I have seen the first option at many web sites. I do not recall seeing the second option. Has anyone seen web forms that use something similar to the first option? Is there a better way of doing this?

  • Without more context the answer will be "it depends...." How long will it take to load? Can you display something useful to the user in the interim? Are your users more or less hurried than most? Also, shouldn't the total delay actually be less if you load in-page? Do you label the page as "loading" normally? – Graham Herrli Sep 4 '14 at 3:29
  • Actually, the load time would be relatively small and in most cases the load would be instantaneous, except when there is a network issue. I would think most AJAX calls have to deal with network issues. – user2125853 Sep 4 '14 at 3:45
  • If the load time is negligible, what would the difference between the two options be to the user? – Graham Herrli Sep 4 '14 at 3:58
  • In the first case, it is an explicit search and in the second case it is not. It is possible that a user may submit 40-50 applications one after the other. In the first case, the use needs to click on search and go to the form. In the second case, the user simply goes to the form for the next set of data. – user2125853 Sep 4 '14 at 4:03
  • Oh. So you're not asking about full-page refresh vs. partial-page replacement, but rather about whether the user needs to explicitly click submit. Is that right? – Graham Herrli Sep 4 '14 at 15:00

Ideally, the user should not HAVE to search. We all know that this is impossible but reducing the amount of search/wait/select/wait/view/wait/not-correct/search-again/ is of paramount importance.

Since you didn't leave a great amount of detail I'm just going to assume that you've refined your search to be maximally effective.

What I know is that when a user sees a form field he expects to be able to edit it immediately. By showing the entire form with any number of fields disabled or otherwise unusable you are betraying the user in his mind.

Method 1 seems ideal (based on the limited information) because it only presents the key field to the user, clearly indicating what MUST be done to move forward. Then it allows the user to move forward in a stepwise manner toward his goal. As long as you can manage to make the steps happen quickly without moving between web-pages, AND as long as the user can sense that the goal is in sight

For Example: Just 2 more steps to see your results

then you should be set.

As for your second question, there are a million ways to skin this cat but we would need to know what kind of search keys and purpose. An Inventory form is vastly different from an E-commerce form, vs a web-search form.

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