By Richard Wootton
Creating forms can sometimes be quite an undertaking. If they are not planned out properly from the conceptual stage they can easily evolve and become complicated. Over complicated forms can reduce the users interest drastically, thus damaging your chances of obtaining the information you require.
This article sets out some key guidelines for creating forms. By taking into consideration the tips outlined below you can plan and create a form just how you originally conceived it.
20 Tips for Creating Forms
1. When designing a form it is always good to remember that most people don’t like filling in forms, so keeping the content and time involved in completing the form to a minimum is a key factor.
2. Where possible, try and keep the user aware of how far they are along the process of completion, and consider splitting the form into sections so a progress bar and save facility can be implemented.
3. Always indicate to the user which fields are required fields; this is especially important in a form with lots of fields but only a few required fields. Usually an asterisk (*) is sufficient with a note at the start of the form indicating the asterisk marks a required field.
Always indicate required fields.
4. Similarly, indicating optional fields is useful when the form has lots of fields but only a few optional fields.
5. Try and avoid using optional fields. If the purpose of your form is to collect data from the user, then only ask questions where you require an answer. Optional fields that serve no purpose just prolong the completion of the form.
6. Always try and group relevant fields together. For example the user’s personal details: Title, Name, Last Name, Gender and Date of Birth etc.
7. Only display fields as required: If a customer has filled in their address and an optional address can be entered into the form, only display the optional fields if the user needs to use them. By having additional, unnecessary fields you risk confusing the user and will also prolong the completion of the form.
8. Keep the design of the form simple, the key is to get the information across in a non-confusing manner and to make the completion of the fields quick and easy. Use a simple, clean design with headers to separate grouped fields.
9. Using tips and descriptions for fields which may be unfamiliar to the user will put them more at ease when asking for sensitive information. For example: When asking for sensitive data such as financial information, use an explanation as to why this required field is important for the completion of the form.
10. Try and keep the tips and descriptions to a minimum, only use them where absolutely necessary as overuse will make your form look untidy and overcomplicated.
11. Try and use drop down menus for fields such as Title, Gender, Date of Birth and fields that require a specific response such as ‘yes’ and ‘no’. This will speed up the completion process, and reduce the chance of incorrect data entry on the part of the user.
Use drop down menus where possible.
12. Use checkboxes and radio buttons for fields that require limited responses.
Use radio buttons for limited response fields.
13. Restrict the number of characters used for fields that require a text response, this ensures only relevant information is submitted by the user, but be aware of minimum field requirements.
14. Validation should be used when obtaining contact information such as an email or phone number. For instance, validate the email address to make sure it has the format of firstname.lastname@example.org and similarly a phone number can be validated for the correct formatting.
15. Make sure if any fields are filled incorrectly that they are easily recognised by the user by using error messages, and on completion of the form make the user aware that their data has been accepted and processed, either through an on screen message, email notification or both.
16. When using error messages try and give examples of valid field inputs to assist the user. Make the error messages stand out from the rest of the form by using a contrasting font colour and a larger font size for the error text.
Give examples of valid field inputs.
17. Always provide feedback on the progress of time consuming actions like calculations and processing, make the user aware that the action is taking place by using a progress bar or similar visual aid.
18. If you are using buttons to submit results, disable any further actions of the button once it has been used. This will reduce the risk of the form being submitted more than once and also make the user aware that form has been submitted.
19. Always inform the user at the beginning of the form if it requires the user to give information that may not be easily accessible, and give the user the ability to save their progress so they may return to complete the form when the information has become available.
20. When asking for data that could be easily mistyped, such as a password request or an email address, use a second validation field to ensure correct spelling. Use an error message if the two fields do not match.
Secondary field validation reduces errors.
They key to creating a successful form is: K.I.S.S - Keep It Simple Stupid. Ensuring the form is easy to understand and quick to submit will help you get the best conversion rate on your forms. Once you have created your form test it on friends who have not seen the form before and watch how they interact with the form. You may be surprised by the results, what you think is an easy form may be confusing to basic internet users.