Float labels are problematic

After writing Placeholders are Problematic some people suggested the float label pattern.

The float label pattern works by having the label start off inside the input (like a placeholder does). But onfocus or when the user starts typing, the label moves outside the input above the field.

While this is better than supplanting labels with placeholders, this seductive, novel and space-saving technique is problematic for a number of reasons:

1. There is no space for a hint

Floating labels start inside the text box leaving no space for an additional hint.

No space for hint

2. They are hard-to-read

Floating labels typically have small text, so that as it floats, it takes up a small amount of space. But small text is hard-to-read.

Small text is hard-to-read

3. They need space to move into

Floating labels needs space to move into. If label text is friendly (see previous point), there would be no saved space anyway—just more white space.

They need space to move into

Alternatively, we could create space as the label moves into position. But this makes the page judder, creating a disorientating experience as the user starts typing.

4. The animation is problematic

Animation, even if it's done well, could be distracting and disorientating, particularly for low confidence or visually impaired users. And, when zooming in, the label may disappear off screen.

5. They have poor contrast

Like placeholder text, floating labels have low contrast to differentiate it but low contrast text is hard-to-read.

They have poor contrast

Depending on the design, when the label floats outside of the field, its colour will need to change. Otherwise the text will be lost against the background colour.

6. They may be mistaken for a value

People may skip the field thinking it's completed already. When they submit, they will see an error which needs fixing. This is frustrating and time consuming.

7. They are inconsistently located

Radio buttons, checkboxes and select boxes have static labels and legends. Where as text boxes have floating labels. This creates an inconsistent experience.

When looking at a text box, for example, the user has to look inside the control. For a select box they have to look outside of it.

Inconsistent location

8. The label may get cropped

If the floating label is longer than the size of the field, it will be cut off by the field. We should design for content, we shouldn't make content fit the design.

The label may get cropped

9. It ignores the standards

We know placeholders are problematic anyway. However, if we're going to put text inside a text box, it should be a hint, not a label.

Summary

Forms are not a source of entertainment. The floating label won't make users enjoy using forms. Users don't care. They just want the outcome.

Static labels and legends positioned outside the field create familiar and consistent experiences. Two qualities often found in well-designed interfaces.

There are better and more productive techniques for improving form design. Let's spend time and energy on those instead.

I write articles like this and share them with my private mailing list. No spam and definitely no popups. Just one article a month, straight to your inbox. Sign up below: