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Select box or auto-complete, within a longer form?

I have a page with a fairly long booking form. One of the tasks on that form is to select a charity from a list of about 200 charities. If the desired charity is not present, the user can enter a new one.

I'm considering changing this to a text input field with auto-complete. So the user starts typing the name of a charity and gets a dynamically changing list of possible matches to select from. Sounds good, right?

But I'm concerned that things might go wrong for some users. Perhaps a user starts typing and makes a spelling mistake before they realise or before they look again at the screen. They enter a variant name of a charity that already exists on the system, but they are unaware of this. So they could end up entering it as a new charity, and we have duplicate entries introduced into the data.

Perhaps I should add a search button, so they input the name of the charity, click search and get a list of possible matches, before selecting one of those, or confirming that they want to create a new charity. This seems more secure, but adds another step of interaction and makes the form more complex.

In a way, it is very tempting to retain the good-old select box with it's long list of entries. It is simpler, more robust, and easier to implement. But somewhat inconvenient for users.

Anyone else had a similar problem?

Views: 27

Comment by Ben Hayes on April 1, 2010 at 10:33
I think if I have an auto-complete box, I can add an extra 'double-check' screen after the main form is submitted, but *only* if the name does not exactly match an existing name. That way most people will get a seamless experience. Where the name doesn't match anything, they'll get a message saying "Did you mean one of these?" and "If not, confirm new charity". Seems like a good balance.
Comment by James Morris on April 6, 2010 at 12:52
Have you checked to see if there is any spelling APIs out there you can use? Perhaps you could spell check the input. You could also use the mysql 'like' statement to list similar charities perhaps the correct one will appear. Normally when the ‘auto-complete’ or ‘live search’ is in use it will draw the users attention if your using a ‘div drop down’. However this does depend a little on the user and whether, as you said they look at the screen while typing or the keyboard. You could also have an add button to add new charities if the database list is exhausted. Be careful though most auto-complete forms use JavaScript or the Jquery libraries which will not work if JS is turned off and all you effort will be lost on users with it off. Hope this helps.
PS you could separate the adding of charities to a link of some kind saying: 'The charity you want not listed?' this could then display a new input for a new charity to be entered. Remember the simplicity meeting that Giles gave. Hide extra features until you need them simple forms can perhaps be easier forms.
Comment by James Morris on April 9, 2010 at 10:08
Have you solved your problem? How did you go about sorting it?

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