Character count testing and user research
The character count component lets users know how many characters they can enter into a textarea and gives them feedback as they are typing on how many characters they have left.
The component has been tested on the following:
- Chrome, Firefox, Safari (desktop) - latest version at the time of writing
- Internet Explorer 11, 10, 9, 8, 7
- Microsoft Edge 14, 15
- Android Galaxy S8, Pixel 8, Nexus 7: Chrome and Firefox
- iPhone 6, iPhone 5s: Safari, Chrome
- Jaws 14/15 + IE11 + Windows 7
- Jaws 17/18 + IE11 + Windows 10
- NVDA + Firefox (latest version at time of writing) + Windows 10
- VoiceOver + Safari + iOS 10.3.2 + iPhone 5s
- VoiceOver + Safari + Mac OS 10.11.6
- Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13
- Zoomtext 10
We tested the character count component with 17 users in total.
- Session 1 and 2: 7 confident or expert level digital users
- Session 3: 7 low confidence digital users
- Session 4 and 5: 4 users with access needs
The following devices were used during the research:
- Desktop (windows), laptop (windows), iPhone, Android, iPad
- JAWS, Voiceover (iPhone and iPad), Zoomtext 10, physical magnifier
The research task
For the purpose of the user research we set an unrealistically low character limit, as we wanted to get the users to reach and potentially go past the limit for the sake of fully testing the component.
We used the character count component at three different points in a test prototype. We gave our participants scenarios that would get them to exceed the limit that we had set.
The research findings
Overall the character count tested very well with most participants. But we did have some interesting results, especially with the highlighting feature.
Users appeared more confident about how the character count worked the second time they interacted with it. At first some of the users were unsure what the highlighted text meant, but it didn’t stop them from continuing with the task.
Some users only acknowledged the character count after they had gone past the set limit or when an error message prompted them after they clicked 'continue'. However, both groups were able to amend the amount of characters they had put in and continue with the task.
We feel this is acceptable, as drawing too much attention to the component may actually distract users from completing their primary task.
The component has been through one initial round of testing with different assistive technologies and users with access needs. So far it has tested well with users.
The component has been set to ARIA polite for screen reader users, so that the counting message that is read out the user will only do so when they stop typing. We have discussed if there's value in setting a delay for when this message is read out. More research is required here.
Highlighting text over the limit
One user thought that the highlighted text meant that they had misspelled a word. This was unexpected and useful for us to hear, however so far it's an isolated example. Text highlighting is the feature that we're least certain about and one that future research should focus on.
- the component did not stop users from completing the primary task
- users were able to correct themselves when they went over the limit
- users showed an increased understanding of the character count after repeated use
- some users were unsure about what the highlighting feature was for
- some users did not initially notice the message positioned under the textarea
Further research should focus on:
- additional testing with Dragon and VoiceOver on tablet
- testing of the highlighting feature
- testing delaying the message that's read out to screen reader users
- testing with users with dyslexia and autism