Web designers have access to countless rich media tools and social applications, why should they still care about the humble form?
How customers interact with you
Think about the last dozen web sites you visited. How many asked you for information? Whether it’s an account registration, a comment on a blog post, a web forum or a survey, chances are there was a form to gather your information.
HTML forms are important components of modern websites. It’s how your customers tell you who they are, sign up for services and purchase your products. They are the major way your users communicate with you.
If you are truly interacting with your web site’s users you will need to gather some information about them at some point and most of the time this is done through a form.
But people hate forms
So why haven’t HTML forms gotten the attention they deserve? I blame much of it on crappy design and inappropriate use. There are some of nice tools out there that make creating HTML forms easy, unfortunately the forms created with these tools is often not well thought out.
Badly designed or badly placed forms can cause user frustration, taking them out of the web sites experience. One of the worst examples of this is the popup survey. If I’m reading your site trying to find a recipe for the ten pounds of zucchini that are in my garden, I don’t want to fill in a survey about your new credit card cross promotion.
Regardless of your form there are some basic things that you should consider:
- Context – ask for the right information at the right time. Sure you need the customer’s shipping address, but ask for it at the right time (and pre-fill it if it’s a returning customer).
- Functionality – the form should work as users are expecting it to. I know it sounds silly, but there is no easier way to lose audience than to fill in a form and not have the submit button work (or worse have it reset the form).
This also means you should follow the standard conventions for forms. For example; if you are providing an exclusive choice, use a radio button and not a check box. When users see a check box they assume that they can choose multiple items.
- Security – Your gathering, potentially sensitive, customer information. It is extremely important to ensure that that data is handled appropriately.
- Design – This is far too broad a subject for this one post, but needless to say you should give the same consideration to form design as you would any other aspect of the site.
The vast majority of web based forms are simple, with only a handful of fields. By no means are these insignificant, the data gathered here drives the customer experience for many web sites.
In fact, I would argue that these are more important as data gathering devices than the large complex forms, at least it terms of web design:
- They are completed more often. People are more inclined to fill out a four field form than a four page one.
- They are easier to build and update. Less complex forms are easier to put together and deploy, meaning that there is a better chance that they will see the light of day
- The total amount of information gathered is several times that of complex forms. Think of all of the little bits of information you are asked for in the course of a day.
What are your thoughts? Do you feel that HTML forms have a place in the modern web design toolkit? Is your organization using HTML forms to interact with your audience?
Completely unrelated side note:
A few of you may have noticed that I have changed the name of this blog from “Steampowered” to “Enterprise…I Think”. There are a couple of reasons for this: 1 – To avoid confusion with another web site. 2 – My role at Adobe has recently changed and the change in the blog’s focus will reflect that change. Cheers, Mike.