State Dropdowns Suck

By Deane Barker on March 26, 2007

Does User Annoyance Matter?: Totally, totally agree with Nielsen on this one. The era of the big dropdown for state names needs to end.

All but one of the sites violated a documented guideline for checkout design: they required users to manipulate a drop-down menu to enter their state abbreviations, rather than simply let them type in the two characters.

[…] Sites offer drop-downs for state abbreviations under the theory that doing so prevents input errors. But that’s not true: menus are more error prone than typing because the mouse scroll wheel often makes users inadvertently change the state field’s content after they’ve moved their gaze elsewhere on the screen. In contrast, everybody knows how to type their own state’s two letters, and it’s always faster to enter this information through the keyboard than the mouse.



  1. Here’s where there’s a disconnect between developers and end users (and, as a developer, I’m guilty of this too!). When someone writing a website says a dropdown prevents input errors, what they really mean is that any data that get’s submitted to the website is “valid” – not necessarily “correct”, but “valid”, since all values are provided. With a textbox, someone could enter QQ as a state abbreviation, which isn’t “valid” or “correct”.

    Bottom line: developers are more concerned with “valid” than “correct”

  2. The only thing worse than state dropdowns is country dropdowns, especially when they include United States in the list alphabetically. If not for the scroll-wheel mouse or the ability to key in the first couple of letters to get to my choice, I’d totally avoid sites that use such mechanisms.

    Would it be any more difficult to let the user key in the info, then have something to validate the response & scold the user if it’s not valid? Or better yet, instead of having the user key in city and state, have them key in the zip code, then pull the city/state from a table provided by the usps? I’ve seen installed software that does that, but never a website.

  3. I would love to have a zip code (postal code) based AJAX setup to populate the city and state info. (Do zip codes ever cross municipal boundires?) I think that would be the best solution of all.

    In any case, would like to see how developers could “correctate” forms (as opposed to “validate”).

  4. yeah, country dropdowns suck. To be politically correct, they put the US way down at the bottom, but most of the po-dunk sites probably get 95% of their business from the US and have never gotten an order from Angola or Zimbabwe.

    date dropdowns suck too – i hate going through 3 boxes to enter a simple date. Also date’s that pop-up whole new windows suck, instead of poppping up a fast and simple JS window.

    finally, validation for things like phone numbers is a waste of time and huge frustration. Who he hell cares if I enter a phone number like (xxx) yyy-zzzz or xxx-yyy-zzzz? Don’t redirect me to the entry page with a paragraph long error report at the top and make me search down the whole page to find the error. Just accpet the damn data! Guess what computers are good at doing? recognizing patterns and manipulating data and numbers!!! just take whatever numbers I put in and have the computer parse it into whatever format it “should” be in.

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