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CN07: Label Placement in Forms and Other Time-Consuming Forms Controversies

Quick Facts

Time: Monday, 12 April 2010, 16:30 to 18:00
Units: 3
Organizers: Caroline Jarrett


After taking this course, you will know the best practices in these frequently controversial areas of web forms design:
  • Where to put the labels
  • Whether to put a colon at the end of a label
  • Whether to use sentence or title case for labels
  • How to indicate required fields
You will also know the underlying research results that inform these best practices. Although all of these points might seem somewhat trivial, they can create heated discussions that consume a disproportionate amount of development time. Cut through the discussion with specific, well-informed advice.


This course is suitable for anyone who wants practical insights into the everyday realities of forms design.


This course arose from the instructor’s 15 years of work as a forms designer, trainer and consultant. She found that she was often asked about best practice in these areas, and that some popular (but incorrect) articles on them are amongst the most bookmarked on delicious.

It was first presented as a shorter talk at a small conference for the STC UK chapter conference in 2007. Since then, various shorter and longer versions have been presented at three UPA chapter meetings in the UK (Scotland, London and Cambridge) and as an evening tutorial at UPA conference in the US in 2008. A short paper on similar topics was presented HCI2008 in the UK.

There is a review of the Cambridge UPA presentation at: http://cudesign.wordpress.com/2009/05/20/write-up-carolinejarrett- label-placement-in-forms/.

The UPA tutorial achieved evaluations of at least 4 out of 5 (on a 5 point scale where 5 is the best ranking) from every participant, with most participants ranking it at 5.


The aim of this course is to provide well-founded best practices to practitioners, educators, and developers who often find themselves in time-consuming discussions about minor points of forms design.

The issues covered in this course should ideally be dealt with in an organisation’s web style guide and then never revisited. In practice, however, many stakeholders have their own opinions on these points and they will spend fruitless hours quoting these opinions at each other.

The course sends attendees away with a thorough understanding of what to do about these arguments, and will therefore save them time in the future that they can use for more important things such as more testing with users and more investigation of the business and user requirements for the forms.

  • Label placement in forms: 40 minutes (including exercises)
  • Other forms controversies: 25 minutes (including exercises)
  • Subtle forms problems: 15 minutes
  • Final questions and discussion: 10 minutes


Caroline Jarrett is the co-author of “Forms that work: Designing web forms for usability” (foreword by Steve Krug). She has been specialising in the usability of forms for 15 years. She has published numerous articles on topics in forms design.She has been presenting one-day tutorials and shorter courses in forms design since 1995, and took part in the first Nielsen-Norman World Tour of 13 countries in 2000/2001.

Her clients include the tax authorities in the UK (HM Revenue and Customs), US (IRS) and Australia (ATO), the UK Ministry of Justice, Financial Services Authority, The Open University, The University of Glasgow, The University of Cambridge, Cancer Research UK. Her USA clients include IEEE and the Mayo Clinic.