Monday, January 21, 2008

What makes a good form?

Making sense of different checklists ...

"So you have a form, and you want to make it 'good'. Where do you start?
Checklists abound

There are many checklists on the internet. InformIT has a nice general one about web forms. Make use of that and your form should definitely improve. A List Apart always has high quality entries and their article on usable forms is no exception.

Alternatively you could work by steering clear of what makes a form 'bad'. For example, here are 5 ways to make sure that users abandon your forms.

Maybe a government-sanctioned approach is more your liking. The Australian Government Information Management Office, or AGIMO, outlines best practice for putting forms online. The third entry on this page of better practice guidelines is the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO)'s suggestions for producing user-friendly government forms.

In addition to these high level checklists, there is plenty of detailed design advice. For example, there are articles on:

* Whether to use colons;
* Where to place field labels; and
* How to manage character limits in free-text fields.

But how does one make sense of all these different instructions? What's needed is an overarching model that can be used to direct all forms design activities and from which these other guidelines can all be derived.

The 4 Cs of Good Form Design

Formulate Information Design has developed just such a model. We call it the 4 Cs of Good Forms Design. We explain the model this way.

Forms make most people cringe. Why? Because forms are generally boring and painful.

Do they have to be this way? Yes and no.

Forms are a bit like going to the dentist. Both are necessary evils. A good dentist, like a good form, shouldn't cause you any pain. But neither are likely to ever be much fun.

So what is it that makes a form painful? Take a moment to reflect on what you don't like about doing your taxes. Tax forms are a great illustration of what aspects of a form's design make it painful. They are:

* Confusing
* Long
* Burdensome (when was the last time you managed to do your taxes in under 10 minutes?) and
* Often ask seemingly pointless questions.

Therefore, if a form's characteristics are the opposite of these, it should be painless. These positive characteristics are the 4 Cs:

* Clear
* Concise
* Clever and
* Contextual."    (Continued via Formulate Information Design)    [Usability Resources]

Checklist - Usability, User Interface Design



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