[whatwg] Question about "Type here your search word(s)" input box

Matthew Thomas mpt at myrealbox.com
Thu Jul 1 08:00:33 PDT 2004

On 1 Jul, 2004, at 12:16 PM, martijn wrote:
> ...
> There are lots of sites (and even Opera has it with the Google search 
> box) that use an input box, which have some predefined value in it and 
> when you focus it, that value disappears. A lot of times you see it 
> used in a search input box. Something like "Type here your search 
> word(s)".

That's bad design because:
(1) it forces you to check whether the text is real text or
     dummy text every time you move to click in the the field
     (so you can decide whether you need to drag-select or
     double-/triple-click and press Delete to remove the
     existing text, or just click and start typing);
(2) if the previous problem is reduced (but not eliminated)
     by making dummy text gray instead of black, the presence
     of such gray text makes the field look unavailable when
     it isn't;
(3) you can't tell whether the text is going to disappear or
     not when you focus the field (on some sites it does, on
     other sites it doesn't);
(4) if you start typing in the field and then become unsure
     of whether you're using the correct field, you can't
     make the label visible again without deleting what
     you've typed (!);
(5) it's inconsistent with the style of labelling used for
     every other kind of form control.

In total this probably costs 1~3 seconds every time someone uses such a 

> Is this something that should be handled by the web forms spec, or 
> should it stay in the realm of javascript?
> ...

Good design should be easy to implement and bad design should be 
difficult to implement. So I see no reason to make this technique 
easier to implement than it already is. (Inclusion in Web Forms would 
make (3) above somewhat more uniform, but that would be far outweighed 
by the harm caused by it being used more often in the first place.)

Since both Opera and Safari use such dummy text in text fields in their 
own interfaces, their implementors may disagree, but I've been tilting 
at those particular windmills for years and see no reason to stop now. 

Matthew Thomas

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