Good Default vs. Bad Default

I think it’s a good idea, on HTML forms, to focus the cursor on the first field on the form. This means users won’t have to click in the field before starting to fill in the form.

I think it’s a bad idea to have the cursor automatically jump from section to section of multi-part fields, like area code and telephone number. While this might seem like “doing the user a favour,” it’s disconcerting, and because we’re all used to using TAB to jump from field to field, we’re more likely to jump one field too far. It also causes problems with making corrections.

Air Canada is the worst offender here: their prompt for a 3-part Aeroplan number is programmed to automatically jump from part to part as it’s entered.


Will Pate's picture
Will Pate on March 4, 2004 - 18:29 Permalink

Interesting viewpoint, Peter. I had always thought the other way around, that the automatic tabbing was a neat feature that should be used more often.

I guess I’m more adaptable to being lazy with my keystrokes.

Al O'Neill's picture
Al O'Neill on May 13, 2004 - 09:08 Permalink

I’m going to have to add a bit ‘if’ to the first point. The automatic focusing on the first text field should only be done if the user won’t need to scroll the page (e.g., should do it because their front page doesn’t scroll). Otherwise, you can’t use the keyboard to scroll up and down the page without figuring out what the heck is going on with your browser (not always obvious) and then realizing the solution is to click somewhere on the page before being able to scroll.