Checkboxes and radios – proper form design

Posted on March 18th, 2020

When building a form – and expecting a user to fill it – the most important thing is ease of use and recognizability.

Some time ago, in mid 2000s, Internet Explorer 6 and 7 were serious players. And I mean serious, every product had to be compatible with those guys. The Microsoft boys were really hustlin’, and every front-end developer knew that.

There was this one thing no /9 or !important couldn’t fix. It was the input[radio] and input[checkbox] fields. Styling those was practically impossible, as they never allowed any tinkering in properties other than border.

Of course, aesthetic-hungry webmasters developed a lot of JavaScript (most of the time in a form of jQuery plugin) that allowed to style the input however we wanted. But there were tradeoffs. Hard, often limited, development. Lack of accessibility. Requiring JavaScript (and back then, it wasn’t so obvious.) So the forms remained mostly untouched, and it was good.

And then, standardization came. Internet Explorer lost its significance. Suddenly, styling input[radio] wasn’t that impossible. We all used the :before trick. It allowed us to do something like this:

Properly styled form

Not fancy enough? So, why don’t we break it?

Not properly styled form

(See it live.)

You see where I am going with this overlong exposure?

Such examples were very common back then. Round checkboxes and square radios. But I thought this was all left in the past, where poor interfaces prevailed.

But they are still here.

I got the munchies recently and decided to order a pizza via Internet. There is one I particularly like, it allows picking own ingredients. So I basically make the „Greek” pizza I ate when I was a kid. Form, more or less, looks like this:

Single column selection of ingredients

See the problem? If yes, congratulations, if no, let me play in Sketch some more:

Multi-column selection of ingredients

Now you see? All of this items look like radio buttons, while in reality, those are checkbox types.

Homer seeing this crap

This is not a design choice. No, design is making it more appealing while keeping the usability intact. This is a mistake. Done perhaps by someone with less experience in the field, but nevertheless, a mistake. Know better. Don’t commit such mistakes.

Rounded input[radio] and square input[checkbox] is something all users know for a long time. Those were the first „tick” fields we saw, probably somewhere in Windows settings panel. They were there, when first web pages that allowed actually doing something other than reading, hit the ‚net. And now they are here, and please, make them stay.

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