The Art of Form Validation: A Designer's Guide

In form validation, it's blur over blurt; guide, don't chide!

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Paige Guggemos

Ah, form validation! The unsung hero of user experience. It's the bridge between a user's intent and a system's need for accurate data. But when should we validate? And how? Let's dive into the debate that has had web designers and developers scratching their heads.

The Real-Time Riddle: To Validate or Not to Validate?

The question is simple: Do we validate individual fields as soon as a user enters data, or do we wait until they hit that big, shiny 'Submit' button? The answer, as with many things in design, is "it depends."

Real-time validation (or validating per field) is generally preferred. Why? Because it provides users with immediate feedback, allowing them to correct errors in context. Imagine you're filling out a form and, as you move from one field to the next, you're gently nudged if something's amiss. It's like having a friendly guide by your side, pointing out missteps before they become full-blown blunders.

examples of real time form validation

However, a word of caution: don't be *too* eager. Validating as a user types can be jarring. It's like having someone peek over your shoulder, pointing out mistakes before you've even finished your sentence. Instead, the magic moment for real-time validation is on "blur" (or onBlur, as developers know it). This is the input state when a user moves away from an edited field. This approach is both user-friendly and accessible:

  • For mouse/keyboard users, it's a logical step back to correct an error.
  • For screenreader users, errors are announced promptly, allowing for immediate correction.
examples of onBlur form validation

The Submit Button Saga: Unveiling All Errors

Now, what about validating on submit? This method has its merits, especially when dealing with untouched fields. If a user hasn't interacted with a field (say, they've left it blank), it might be best to hold off on the error messages until they attempt to submit the form. This approach minimizes interruptions and keeps the user flow smooth.

examples of empty field form validation

However, there's a catch. If there are multiple errors upon submission, users might find themselves playing detective, associating error messages with their respective fields. This can be particularly challenging for screenreader users, who would need to navigate back through the form to identify and correct mistakes.

The Golden Rules of Form Validation

To sum it up, here are the golden rules for form validation:

  1. Untouched Fields: If a user hasn't interacted with a field, hold your horses! No need to flag it just yet.
  2. Touched Fields: If a user makes an error, let them know right then and there. A gentle nudge can go a long way. 
  3. On Submit: Reveal all errors, including those from untouched fields. It's like a final check before takeoff.

In essence, the goal of form validation is to guide users without being overly intrusive. It's about striking a balance between providing helpful feedback and ensuring a seamless user experience. So, the next time you're designing a form, remember these rules, and maybe even scribe them on your walls. After all, a well-validated form is a happy form!

This content was created with the assistance of a large language model. Specifically, it is based on the transcript of an actual Slack discussion between the engineering and design teams . The generated content has been independently verified and heavily edited for accuracy and clarity.