Forgiving Format Design pattern

Problem summary

The user needs to quickly enter data into the system, which then in turn interprets the user's input.




  • Use when the more explicit select boxes, radio buttons, and checkboxes make entering data a too complicated process for the user to engage with the system.
  • Use when filling out forms takes too much time for the user compared to what he or she wants to accomplish.
  • Use when the the input you want to collect is regarding one topic. For instance a physical location or an event with a given start time.
  • Use when expected input can be somewhat easily interpreted by a computer program.
  • Do not use when the user can possibly ask anything. Only use for a narrowly defined purpose.


An input text form field is presented with a accompanying label describing what input is expected in the field. Possibly, examples of working inputs is also presented to easy the user’s formulation.

The whole idea with the forgiving format pattern is to transfer input from a user interface problem to a programming problem. Behind the scenes, an interpreter checks for different word patterns, and converts them into a formatted value.


Using the forgiving format pattern saves space, and decreases the barrier for the user to interact with the system.
Depending on how widely defined the input topic is, it can be increasingly hard for the backend program to interpret the input field. The success of this pattern has much to do with how information is asked for – how the user is prompted.

More example images of the 'Forgiving Format' pattern

  • ForgivingFormat

    Create an event at

  • ForgivingFormat

    Create an event at 30

  • ForgivingFormat

    When entering spent hours in the time-tracking part of basecamp, the input fields accept more than one format of half hours - both 2.5 and 2.30 counts as two and a half hours.

  • ForgivingFormat

    On the Apple support website, you can type in a question like "how do I reset my ipod", which in turn will be interpreted by the support site and come up with a suitable answer. If you are in doubt of how to ask your questions, a link to an explanation is


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Example images

  • ForgivingFormat
  • ForgivingFormat
  • ForgivingFormat
  • ForgivingFormat