The UX of Forms and the Enter Key

By | October 1, 2008

Someone at the conference just asked me a question: “What should the enter key do on a form?”

My answer, based on research during my stay at Intuit is:

  1. Submit the form only if
    1. A login form with 2-3 fields like username/password
    2. A short form like “New Widget” or “Save Widget” with 1 field like Name.
  2. Do not submit if
    1. They are in the middle of a long form

Additionally, you need to think about what the enter key “could” mean to a user.  Some examples:

  • In a textarea the enter key always means carriage return.
  • If you are using the keyboard to navigate the form, enter means “Click” on radio buttons, checkboxes or select options.
  • Enter could mean TAB, as long as it doesn’t conflict with normal keyboard selection models.
  • Enter on the last input, if it is a text field, could mean submit the form.  Be careful with this though.  You don’t score that many extra points when with the user by doing this.

In general, you should always think about the details of what the user is doing and what makes sense.

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