All in the <head> – Ponderings and code by Drew McLellan –

A Question of Title

When designing a form to collect data on the web, it’s necessary to consider both the fields you need, and also how those fields are presented. Sometimes that might be a list of predefined options, other times it will be free text. Once you’ve made that choice, you have to further decide whether options are a select box or a clickable element, and how many choices the user may make. For free text, you have to define ‘free’ with character limits and appropriate validation. Getting it right is sometimes trivial, and other times a complete bloody nightmare.

When collecting data about a person or user, one of the trickier decisions to make is how to collect whether a person is a Mr or a Mrs – their title. A common method is to present a short list (often just Mr, Mrs, Miss, Ms) as a single-option select box. Some even go wild and include options such as Dr and even Rev.

The trouble with this approach is that people tend to be very particular about their titles – especially if their title is more unusual. Should you fail to include someone’s title in your list of options (and let’s face it, it’s going to be near impossible to get them all!), you risk causing offense. For this reason my favoured approach tends to be a free text field into which the user can type the title of their choice. After all, how much effort is it to type Mr or Mrs, and this of course caters for any unusual title the user may hold.

That said, when shopping online today at Boden I was surprised – no, delighted – to see the effort they’d gone to to provide a comprehensive list of options for their title select box. I’m not sure how many Squadron Leaders, Dukes, Marquesses, Viscounts and Earls they get buying from them online, but I’m sure their pleased to have the option when they do. See a screen shot of full list – impressive.

I stated that my favoured approach is to use a free text field, but that’s not quite true. Given the chance, I prefer to drop the title field entirely as very rarely is it of any use. Surely in this day and age, and particularly for a lot of the business conducted online, titles bear no importance.