Asterisks are little things, probably no bigger than most mosquitoes, but they sometimes bother me. Don’t get me wrong, using asterisks to mark the required fields on all of these online forms is great. It means that my Inner Slacker / Inner Efficiency Freak can do the bare minimum that’s required and then get on with my life. So I’m not complaining about the asterisk convention; I like that. What I would like to complain about is that these asterisks are usually found after the field label. It’s common to see “Email Address” followed by an asterisk rather than an asterisk followed by “Email Address”. So why is this a problem? Well, two reasons: (1) It puts the information in the wrong order and (2) It makes it difficult to scan.
Wrong Order: If my Inner Slacker wants to fill out only what’s required, then the asterisks are very important elements on the form. I don’t care about the phrase “Email Address” unless it’s required, and in the current order, I don’t know that it’s required until I see the asterisk, which is after I read the phrase “Email Address”. We read from left to right and so People Who Put Asterisks to the Right of Field Labels are making me read a little more than I have to or care to.
Scanning: if I want to scan the form and quickly find the required fields, this is hard to do when the asterisks come after the field labels because they’re all zigzaggedy.
I see this:
But I’d rather see this:
Here’s how I would like my thought process to be able to go:
Line 1 – Is it required? No. Skip it.
Line 2 – Is it required? Yes. What is it? Email Address. Fill it out.
If asterisks came first, then I could do this. But since they don’t, I have to do this instead:
Line 1 – It’s Name. Is it required? No. Skip it.
Line 2 – It’s Email Address. Is it required? Yes. Fill it out.
You see the extra step in the second version of Line 1. The fact that the first field is “Name” enters my consciousness when I didn’t ask it to, which is a little bit rude. This doesn’t affect Over Achievers who will be filling out the entire form anyway but for people whose Inner Slackers have better things to do, this wastes a little bit of our time. We don’t care about anything that’s not required, so tell us whether it’s required or not first before you tell us what it is. Please. :) Thank you.