The many ways of improving a single form field in HTML.
I love these kinds of deep dives into markup!
The many ways of improving a single form field in HTML.
I love these kinds of deep dives into markup!
We have to stop confusing the excesses of capitalism with the hallmarks of quality. Sometimes Google aren’t better, they’re just more pervasive.
cough AMP cough
When I liveblogged Jason’s talk at An Event Apart in Chicago, I included this bit of reporting:
Jason proceeds to relate a long and involved story about buying burritos online from Chipotle.
Well, here is that story. It’s a good one, with some practical takeaways (if you’ll pardon the pun):
- Use HTML5 input features
- Support autofill
- Make autofill part of your test plans
Jason is on stage at An Event Apart Chicago in a tuxedo. He wants to talk about how we can make web forms magical. Oh, I see. That explains the get-up.
We’re always being told to make web forms shorter. Luke Wroblewski has highlighted the work of companies that have reduced form fields and increased conversion.
But what if we could get rid of forms altogether? Wouldn’t that be magical!
Jason will reveal the secrets to this magic. But first—a volunteer from the audience, please! Please welcome Joe to the stage.
Joe will now log in on a phone. He types in the username. Then the password. The password is hodge-podge of special characters, numbers and upper and lowercase letters. Joe starts typing. Jason takes the phone and logs in without typing anything!
The secret: Jason was holding an NFC security key in his hand. That works with a new web standard called WebAuthn.
Passwords are terrible. People share them across sites, but who can blame them? It’s hard to remember lots of passwords. The only people who love usernames and passwords are hackers. So sites are developing other methods to try to keep people secure. Two factor authentication helps, although it doesn’t help us with phishing attacks. The hacker gets the password from the phished user …and then gets the one-time code from the phished user too.
But a physical device like a security key solves this problem. So why aren’t we all using security keys (apart from the fear of losing the key)? Well, until WebAuthn, there wasn’t a way for websites to use the keys.
A web server generates a challenge—a long string—that gets sent to a website and passed along to the user. The user’s device generates a credential ID and public and private keys for that domain. The web site stores the public key and credential ID. From then on, the credential ID is used by the website in challenges to users logging in.
There were three common ways that we historically proved who we claimed to be.
These are factors of identification. So two-factor identification is the combination of any of those two. If you use a security key combined with a fingerprint scanner, there’s no need for passwords.
The browser support for the web authentication API (WebAuthn) is a bit patchy right now but you can start playing around with it.
There are a few other options for making logging in faster. There’s the Credential Management API. It allows someone to access passwords stored in their browser’s password manager. But even though it’s newer, there’s actually better browser support for WebAuthn than Credential Management.
Then there’s federated login, or social login. Jason has concerns about handing over log-in to a company like Facebook, Twitter, or Google, but then again, it means fewer passwords. As a site owner, there’s actually a lot of value in not storing log-in information—you won’t be accountable for data breaches. The problem is that you’ve got to decide which providers you’re going to support.
Also keep third-party password managers in mind. These tools—like 1Password—are great. In iOS they’re now nicely integrated at the operating system level, meaning Safari can use them. Finally it’s possible to log in to websites easily on a phone …until you encounter a website that prevents you logging in this way. Some websites get far too clever about detecting autofilled passwords.
Time for another volunteer from the audience. This is Tyler. Tyler will help Jason with a simple checkout form. Shipping information, credit card information, and so on. Jason will fill out this form blindfolded. Tyler will first verify that the dark goggles that Jason will be wearing don’t allow him to see the phone screen. Jason will put the goggles on and Tyler will hand him the phone with the checkout screen open.
Jason dons the goggles. Tyler hands him the phone. Jason does something. The form is filled in and submitted!
What was the secret? The goggles prevented Jason from seeing the phone …but they didn’t prevent the screen from seeing Jason. The goggles block everything but infrared. The iPhone uses infrared for Face ID. So the iPhone, it just looked like Jason was wearing funky sunglasses. Face ID then triggered the Payment Request API.
The Payment Request API allows us to use various payment methods that are built in to the operating system, but without having to make separate implementations for each payment method. The site calls the Payment Request API if it’s supported (use feature detection and progressive enhancement), then trigger the payment UI in the browser. The browser—not the website!—then makes a call to the payment processing provider e.g. Stripe.
E-commerce sites using the Payment Request API have seen a big drop in abandonment and a big increase in completed payments. The browser support is pretty good, especially on mobile. And remember, you can use it as a progressive enhancement. It’s kind of weird that we don’t encounter it more often—it’s been around for a few years now.
Jason read the fine print for Apple Pay, Google Pay, Microsoft Pay, and Samsung Pay. It doesn’t like there’s anything onerous in there that would stop you using them.
On some phones, you can now scan credit cards using the camera. This is built in to the operating system so as a site owner, you’ve just got to make sure not to break it. It’s really an extension of autofill. You should know what values the
autocomplete attribute can take. There are 48 different values; it’s not just for checkouts. When users use autofill, they fill out forms 30% faster. So make sure you don’t put obstacles in the way of autofill in your forms.
Jason proceeds to relate a long and involved story about buying burritos online from Chipotle. The upshot is: use the
pattern attributes correctly on
input elements. Test autofill with your forms. Make it part of your QA process.
So, to summarise, here’s how you make your forms disappear:
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
—Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law
Don’t our users deserve magical experiences?
- Obey the Law of Locality
- ABD: Anything But Dropdowns
- Pass the Squint Test
- Teach by example
This is about designing forms that everyone can use and complete as quickly as possible. Because nobody actually wants to use your form. They just want the outcome of having used it.
I was chatting with Rachel at work the other day about conversational forms, and I mentioned that I kicked that whole thing off with the mad libs style form on Huffduffer. Here’s the research that Luke later did on whether this style of form could increase conversion.
In some situations, a date picker is overkill:
I have relied on plain text inputs as date fields with custom validation for the site, typically using the same logic on the client and the server. For known dates — birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, etc — it has tested well.
Greg has done a lot of research into developer frustrations with customising form controls.
My current thinking in this space, and I know some folks will find this controversial, but I think we should completely standardize in-page form controls with no limitations on their styling capabilities. What do I mean by in-page controls? I am referring to any form control or component that is rendered within the content process. This standardization would include the sub-parts and their related states and how these are exposed (probably through CSS psuedo classes or HTML attributes). This will enable the shadow-dom to be encapsulated while providing web developers with a consistent experience to adjust to match their brand and needs of their site/application.
It’s all fun and games until you realise that everything in here was inspired by actual interfaces out there on the web.
This starts as a good bit of computer science nerdery, that kind of answers the question in the title:
Alone, CSS is not Turing complete. CSS plus HTML plus user input is Turing complete!
And so the takeaway here is bigger than just speculation about Turing completeness:
Given that CSS is a domain-specific language for styling user interface, this makes a lot of sense! CSS + HTML + Human = Turing complete.
At the end of that day, as CSS developers that is the language we really write. CSS is incomplete without HTML, and a styled interface is incomplete without a human to use it.
I got a message from a screen-reader user of The Session recently, letting me know of a problem they were having. I love getting any kind of feedback around accessibility, so this was like gold dust to me.
They pointed out that the drag’n’drop interface for rearranging the order of tunes in a set was inaccessible.
Of course! I slapped my forehead. How could I have missed this?
It had been a while since I had implemented that functionality, so before even looking at the existing code, I started to think about how I could improve the situation. Maybe I could capture keystroke events from the arrow keys and announce changes via ARIA values? That sounded a bit heavy-handed though: mess with people’s native keyboard functionality at your peril.
Then I looked at the code. That was when I realised that the fix was going to be much, much easier than I thought.
I documented my process of adding the drag’n’drop functionality back in 2016. Past me had his progressive enhancement hat on:
One of the interfaces needed for this feature was a form to re-order items in a list. So I thought to myself, “what’s the simplest technology to enable this functionality?” I came up with a series of
selectelements within a form.
The problem was in my feature detection:
There’s a little bit of mustard-cutting going on: does the
dragulaobject exist, and does the browser understand
querySelector? If so, the
selectelements are hidden and the drag’n’drop is enabled.
The logic was fine, but the execution was flawed. I was being lazy and hiding the
select elements with
display: none. That hides them visually, but it also hides them from screen readers. I swapped out that style declaration for one that visually hides the elements, but keeps them accessible and focusable.
It was a very quick fix. I had the odd sensation of wanting to thank Past Me for making things easy for Present Me. But I don’t want to talk about time travel because if we start talking about it then we’re going to be here all day talking about it, making diagrams with straws.
I pushed the fix, told the screen-reader user who originally contacted me, and got a reply back saying that everything was working great now. Success!
- Have a dedicated page for login
- Expose all required fields
- Keep all fields on one page
- Don’t get fancy
In which Matthew disects a multiple choice quiz that uses CSS to do some clever logic, using the
:checked pseudo-class and
I quite like this date-picking interface. It would be nice if browsers picked it up for
Oh, this will be good! Adam has been working on, thinking and writing about forms for quite a while and he has distilled that down into ten patterns. You just know that progressive enhancement will be at the heart of this book.
By the end of the book, you’ll have a close-to exhaustive list of ready-to-go components, delivered as a design system that you can fork, contribute to and use immediately on your projects. But more than that, you’ll have the mindset and rationale behind when or when not to use each solution, which is just as important as the solution itself.
A great collection of styled and accessible form elements:
Form controls are necessary in many interfaces, but are often considered annoying, if not downright difficult, to style. Many of the markup patterns presented here can serve as a baseline for building more attractive form controls without having to exclude users who may rely on assistive technology to get things done.
A lot of the issues here are with abuses of the
placeholder attribute—using it as a label, using it for additional information, etc.—whereas using it quite literally as a placeholder can be thought of as an enhancement (I almost always preface mine with “e.g.”).
Still, there’s no getting around that terrible colour contrast issue: if the contrast were greater, it would look too much like an actual pre-filled value, and that’s potentially worse.
This ever-growing curated collection of interface patterns on CodePen is a reliable source of inspiration.
The slides from a presentation by Drew on all the functionality that browsers give us for free when it comes to validating form inputs.