Form Field Usability: Should You Use Single or Multi-Column Forms? [Original Research]

Form Field Usability: Should You Use Single or Multi-Column Forms? [Original Research]

Just how bad is a multi-column form layout? This short study conducted through ConversionXL Institute compares form completion time on a single column form vs. a multicolumn form.

Will the same questions with a different layout (one column versus multiple columns) result in different completion times?

Results summary

  • The single-column form was faster to complete.
    • Survey participants completed the linear, single-column form (n = 356) an average of 15.4 seconds faster than the multi-column form (n = 346). This was significantly faster at a 95% confidence level.

How do I apply this research?

  • If you’re using multi-column forms, or thinking of, don’t. The more linear the better.
  • This study should provide you with more direct evidence (data) to fight anyone who thinks otherwise.

Background

Avoiding multi-column forms is relatively well known. Here are the often-cited authority sources:

But there isn’t a lot of actual quantitative data out there, like how it affects form completion time. For the studies that are out there, most are qualitative insights (see those mentioned above) from very few test subjects, and even when it is “quantitative,” it was done years ago and involved on 8 people for eye-tracking results…really?!

This study is a simple one. We presented our “Trust Seal” survey to a bunch of people and half saw a single layout form and the other saw a multi-column form. We then just looked for differences in form completion.

Study Report

Data Collection Methods and Operations:

The survey was sent out in early June 2016. A total of 702 participants filled out the forms (n = 346 for the multi-column form, and n = 356 for the linear form). We restricted the survey to desktop users.

Treatment Variations

10

4

Findings

We ran a simple 2-sample t-test to compare the results. Here they are:

timediff-mcVSlinear1

So, the single-column form performed much better than the multi-column form.

Limitations & Additional Study Ideas

Our form variations here are unique, in that they asked a set amount of questions, had certain types of questions, had labels presented in a particular way, etc.  These results are therefore not directly transferable to all form types and situations.

With so many types of forms and situations, there’s still a lot to test. Particularly we’re interested in effects of form field types, such as multi-select vs. radio buttons across different platforms. Though label placement is also something that would be good to have data on.

Conclusion

The single-column form was faster to complete.Survey participants completed the linear, single-column form an average of 15.4 seconds faster than the multi-column form. This was significantly faster at a 95% confidence level.

If you’re using multi-column forms, or thinking of, don’t. The more linear the better.

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Join the Conversation Add Your Comment

  1. This is such a great article & study, but I wonder if part of the reason the multi-column form took so long is that it’s so complicated.

    It doesn’t really match what you have in the featured image for this post … it’s actually a lot more complicated, with the first row having 3 columns, the second row having 2 columns, followed by 3 one-column rows. It’s not just a simple 2-column form.

    I’d be interested to see how much the 2-column layout really slows down users in a simpler example, where you just have one column of text inputs/pick lists & a second column of text inputs/pick lists. I think that’s what most people think of when they think of a 2-column form.

    Still, great study and article though!

    Reply
    1. Ben Labay

      Hey Ben, good point, would be good to see the relationship between form complexity and completion time…linear? Thanks for the comment and we’ll keep your suggestion in mind. Cheers, Ben

  2. While that is a great study and does indicate something, the proof is in sales conversions. Did anyone test for this? Thanks.

    Reply
    1. Ben Labay

      This form had no sales conversions at the end of it so we didn’t test that, but this data is suggestive, in that if a form is faster to fill out, less people will abandon it, thus more form completion (conversion). Cheers, Ben

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