Drop-Down Menus: A Little-Known Usability Flaw

When we complete online forms, we’re frequently required to use a drop-down menu for selecting our state. Most organizations do not realize that this everyday feature is frustrating to users. In his latest Alertbox column, Jakob Nielsen builds a case for avoiding drop-down menus and other “user irritants,” as he calls them.

The drop-down menu’s flaws are many, according to the usability guru:

  • If you select the wrong option in a drop-down, it’s tedious to correct
  • Menus easily become long and unwieldy
  • Many users struggle with the mouse actions necessary to select an option, and the scroll wheel compounds the issue
  • The frustrations are even worse for elderly and disabled users

The better alternative, according to Nielsen: Let users type in their state abbreviation. Most users know their abbreviation, he says, and back-end code validation will ensure that accurate information is submitted.

Nielsen notes that this shortcoming alone does not ultimately doom your site. However, this annoyance, combined with other small blemishes, can add up and detract from the overall user experience.

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