Simple Inputs: Names

May 9, 2022

Kevin Dekker

About the Series

I’ve been designing websites and apps (in one form or another) for over 15 years – and I spend a lot of time thinking about User Interfaces. It’s easy to start dropping elements into a form or inputs into an account management page, but if we’re not careful we can cause some real problems for our users.

Keeping things simple is important – but simple isn’t easy. It requires that we think through our designs thoroughly and from perspectives outside of our own. When we design for inclusion, we let our users know that we respect and appreciate them, and we keep our products accessible for all.

In the Simple Inputs series, we will walk through some of the many things to consider before adding that “simple input” into your next design.

Simple Inputs - Names

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.” William Shakespeare

“A person's name is to that person, the sweetest, most important sound in any language.” - Dale Carnegie

So, you want people to sign up for your product.

That’s great! People are my favourite.

And as part of your sign-up flow, you’re asking for folks’ names – maybe in the first step.  

Two text inputs, coming up!

Simple, right?

But imagine your user getting stuck on that first step – because your product has decided their last name is too short.

Oof.

Or maybe they get in, but it shows their family name instead.

Yikes.

At best, this is annoying - but I think it’s insulting.

As designers, we must build products that welcome all users - to fall short says to the user “you don’t matter”.

So, let’s not insult our users and let’s instead look at some ways we can do better when we use names in our applications.  Here, in no particular order, are some examples of how we can do better:

Respect Format

Spacing, capitalization, and apostrophe usage are just a few examples of how formatting can be presented in a person’s name.  Allow your user to show you how their name is presented.

Accept “Special” Characters

Special characters and accents are vital for pronunciation – and they are an important part of that person’s name, culture, and history.  Don’t exclude your users by not accepting their names and please don’t substitute letters.

Move Past the First and Last

For starters, not everyone has a First and Last name. Full name is a much more effective, and inclusive way to request someone’s name and how they present it.

Don’t Ask For It

Do you really need their real name? If you can avoid it, this is worth considering!

Recommended Solution:

Assuming it is needed for your application, I recommend using a free-form text input for Full Name.  Let your user show you how their name is spelt, punctuated, and ordered and then be sure to honour that and display it properly.

I recommend using a user’s Preferred Name in interactions between users (chat dialogue, likes, posts, etc) or anytime the product addresses the user directly.  This should help to make your application more welcoming and inclusive to all your users.


What do you think?

I’m sure I’ve missed something, or maybe you have a simpler approach to this issue.  Let me know!

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