What’s The Format, Kenneth?

As I was planning to leave a clever and pointed comment, I encountered the following captcha:

A number and a word, and the answer is a....?

You’ll notice it’s a math problem where the first number is given as a number, and the second number displays as a word. So the answer should be….?

If your clever designers and developers build forms with fields whose expected format is not clear, you should make them identify the expected format so the user doesn’t click Submit and have to wait for the application to choke on the incorrect format. This is especially true if the resulting error message does not include the correct format. The user isn’t filling in your form because he like to solve puzzles.

Some of the field elements where this can be problematic:

  • Phone number: ###-###-###? (###)###-###? #########?
  • Postal/ZIP code: #####? #####-####? Open string to accommodate British or Canadian codes?
  • Dates: ##/##/##? ##/##/####? ####/##/##? ##-##-####?
  • And so on.

    You can avoid these, of course, by putting in separate fields for each of the parts of the whole, whether drop-down lists or edit boxes. But if they won’t suffer you that, they should darn well make it obvious what the user should enter.

One Response to “What’s The Format, Kenneth?”

  1. jstrazzere Says:

    “What’s The Format, Kenneth?”

    An R.E.M. reference? Nice. I’ll miss ’em…


wordpress visitors