Just wondering if there is rule around screen labels. I'm working on a project at the moment, and we've got sections of forms with very inconsistent labeling. One section might be labeled "List of ingredients" and another team have developed a separate but related form with a section named "Ingredients list".

Is one of these correct (or more correct?) for a better UX (I realize both are perfectly acceptable in everyday use)?


  • Hmmm... I really do believe sometimes we tend to over think solutions. If you're really unsure, just test it with your users.
    – UXerUIer
    Sep 28, 2016 at 13:09
  • for people who are not native English speakers (like me), I think your first choice is less confusing, but just an opinion
    – Devin
    Sep 28, 2016 at 16:58

2 Answers 2


When it comes to basic human factors questions like this, I reach for the US Department of Defense Design Criteria Standard for Human Engineering, known to its friends as MIL-STD 1472. It includes the following regarding labeling, which applies to either software or hardware: Brevity. Labels shall be unambiguous and as concise as possible without distorting the intended meaning or information. Short, direct sentences in active voice shall be used and redundancy shall be minimized.

Section 5.4 of MIL-STD 1472 has a lot of useful rules for labels. You can also check the usual operating system UX guidelines.

So, keep labels as terse as possible. Excess words adds clutter and reading time, and unnecessarily consuming user time is bad UX. Another guideline I follow is, when there’s a choice, place the more informative words first to aid skimming and scanning for a label. In this example, I’d expect users are more often looking for “ingredients” than a “list.”

Following these rules, “Ingredient List” is preferred over “List of Ingredients.”

However, consistent with, the best label is probably simply “Ingredients.” The word “list” doesn’t really add useful information. Ingredients are usually a list, so that’s expected. If the label is only a header for content on a page, and not a link, menu item, or other control, it’s going to be visually obvious the ingredients are in a list. It would only be necessary to include “List” if the application could also display ingredients in some other way (e.g., “Ingredient Map” or “Ingredient Relationship Diagram” or “Ingredient Timeline,” whatever the heck those are).

These rules can be overridden by naming conventions common among your users. For example, I’d recommend “Contact Us” over simply “Contacts,” because “Contact Us” has become a de facto standard that users expect and scan for. Similarly, for an engineering application, I would use "Bill of Materials" rather than "Materials Bill," because no one says "Materials Bill."

Creating, publicizing, and enforcing a style guide for your organization can help consistency across different designers and developers. Ask your boss to make that part of your job.

  • I agree entirely with this logic. This is a specific case of Joel Spolsky's observation: " Experienced UI designers literally try to minimize the number of words on dialogs to increase the chances that they will get read" joelonsoftware.com/uibook/chapters/fog0000000062.html Reading basically is mental work. And people don't like doing it if they can avoid it.
    – PhillipW
    Sep 28, 2016 at 14:40

There are rules about labels, but this is nothing more than a consistency problem caused by two different teams working on different parts of the solution with no central oversight, which is contributing to a poor user experience.

So this is actually an organisation problem and someone needs to own and fix this because the two teams are not working together and it will have a negative effect on your solution.

  • Thanks for your response, and I couldn't agree more! That's why I've been brought in. So yes, I'm looking for the "rules about labels" so I can tell team A to carry on making their labels the way they are doing it already and tell teams B, C, D and E to start making their labels like team A.
    – uxtynuxty
    Sep 28, 2016 at 11:11
  • The rules about labels don't apply to the inconsistency problem caused by teams not collaborating or no central oversight. For example labels rules like these wont help in this situation: - Labels should be short and succinct. - Labels should be in Sentence case except for Proper Nouns
    – SteveD
    Sep 28, 2016 at 11:15

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