Forms that work: Designing web forms for usability

Paper forms

We love working with paper forms, but were persuaded that it was better to write a short book - so we concentrated on web forms. Most of the chapters work just as well for paper forms design:

Introduction: what is a form - works for paper

1. Persuading people to answer - works for paper. 

2. Asking for the right information - definitely works for paper, and some of the things we recommend such as watching people deal with the incoming forms are a lot easier to do with paper

3. Making questions easy to answer - definitely works for paper

4. Writing instructions - definitely works for paper

5. Choosing forms controls - focuses solely on web form controls, so it's not really relevant for paper

6. Making the form flow easily - the parts about validations are only relevant to electronic forms. The bits about breaking a form up into topics are relevant to paper

7. Taking care of the details - works for paper, although obviously on paper you can't enforce required field indicators so just leave them off.

8. Making the form look easy - the sections on grids and grouping are relevant

9. Testing - definitely works for paper.

Articles on paper forms

Two of Caroline's articles are about paper forms:

"Designing usable forms: the three-layer model of the form"

"Understanding the costs of data capture" 

Design advice for paper forms

Yves Peters ('unzipped') writes about font choices for paper forms


From carolinejarrett - 2012-06-11

Hi Jimmi

There are some useful ideas in that article, but I have some reservations about it too. That's why I haven't linked to it.

Good tips:

"Form Design Tip 1: Consider accessibility" (but the article limits that to considering whether to offer a paper form and an electronic form, which isn't really enough)

"Form Design Tip 2: Keep it short and sweet" Agreed.

"Form Design Tip 5: Leave space" (that is, make sure you give people enough space for their answers. But the article says 'don't waist space'. Should be 'don't waste space')

"Form Design Tip 10: Return to who?" (good tip - for paper forms only, of course)

Tips that I agree with somewhat:

"Form Design Tip 3: Maintain identity" (that is, put your logo on the form. This is a good idea for external forms but is a waste of space for internal/Intranet forms)

"Form Design Tip 7: Divide and conquer" (that is, group related fields into sensible categories). This is mostly a good idea, but only if the categories clearly make sense to users and if all the questions are really necessary. 

 Tips that I don't agree with

"Form Design Tip 6: Number content". The page says to number questions and fields in complex forms. This can work, but it doesn't particularly help when processing the forms and it doesn't help nearly as much as grouping content into sensible categories. 

"Form Design Tip 8: Use checkboxes, radio buttons and combo boxes". I think this advice is too simplistic: in fact, you need to think about using the appropriate one from these interface widgets, and of course they only really work when you're designing an electronic form. 

"Form Design Tip 9: Provide instruction". In fact, users nearly always skip the instructions at the start of a form. You need to cut the instructions to the absolute minimum and preferably turn them into questions. The advice about getting your form completed in black ink and capitals applies only to paper forms. 

From Jimmi Kin [] - 2012-06-10

Found some more useful form design tips here...




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Last Modified 2010-12-13