Designing Data Entry Forms for RTL Environments ...

From: Ed Trager (
Date: Tue Aug 12 2008 - 14:24:19 CDT

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    Hi, Everyone,

    I'm working on a set of form components for "Web 2.0"-style
    applications and I have a few questions that I'd like to bounce off
    people on this mailing list:

    Suppose we are creating an appropriately-localized data entry form for
    an RTL environment like Arabic or Hebrew with data entry elements such

    Name: [ ]
    Email: [ ]
    Birthday: [ ]

    It goes without saying that for the "Name:" <input> element (and
    other similar entry elements) we will set the CSS "direction" property
    to "rtl".

    But what about for certain other kinds of data entry elements like
    "Email" ? Would it be preferrable to keep the email <input> element
    with "direction:ltr" ?

    And what about the "Birthday" element? For the sake of simplicity,
    lets assume that this form is for a business application, and so the
    date element allows the user to enter a Gregorian date using digits
    only, at a minimum in ISO YYYY-MM-DD form. Here again, it seems to me
    that it would be much preferrable to maintain "direction:ltr" on this
    date <input> element. Otherwise, if we set "direction:rtl" (either
    explicitly or because of CSS inheritance on an RTL page), then the
    directionally-neutral separator characters ("-" or "/" or ".") will
    "jump" over to the left before "jumping" back to the right as we type
    the date into the form. Such "jumping neutral character" behavior
    seems rather annoying to me -- but, alas, I am not an Arabic or Hebrew
    computer user, and so I don't really know if users who work in an RTL
    computing environment on a daily basis find this Unicode-defined BIDI
    behaviour annoying or not? Is this kind of behaviour something that
    people are just accustomed to? Or is it worth the extra effort to
    investigate which form elements ought to remain LTR even in an RTL

    I would especially like to hear from folks with significant experience
    as RTL users in terms of what works best --or would work best if
    optimal solutions are not yet a reality-- for these RTL locales.

    Thanks and Best Wishes -- Ed Trager

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