Written by Guest Blogger Sarah Heidtman
Done! Submit! Confirm! … so close, but why is nothing happening? All I see on the screen is a bright red box informing me about an error: “There was a problem with your submission.” After scanning through the online form I noticed that I not only forgot to confirm the crucial information of my email address, but I also have the joy of re-entering all the information I strenuously gathered and entered seconds before.
How many of us have failed to fill out an online form and eventually abandoned the attempt, because the instructions were too confusing, there were too many fields to click through, or the information had to be re-entered due to one overlooked empty field? Online forms can be as confusing, boring, and annoying as the paper-work we have to fill out at the doctor’s office or at customs in the airport,… but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Since I started at Red Sage, I have come across a couple of websites which integrated different types of form applications, may it be a newsletter subscription, a feedback form, or a request form. All of these can be a successful opportunity of communication with clients and users if the form pays attention to a couple of simple guidelines.
Design your form with functionality in mind
Make sure to integrate the overall look and feel of your website into your form and clearly accentuate ‘submit’ or ‘sign up’ buttons, so that customers feel comfortable about filling out your form and are aware of your intent and their personal gain. Be consistent but flexible in the design of your form to match users’ expectations and mental modes.
Give simple and clear instructions
Label all the fields in a short but precise manner. Think about using multiple choice questions or yes or no questions to make it easier for the customer to move along. Use additional instructions next to the field or underneath it if necessary and explain the symbols you use in your form. Don’t expect everyone to know that bolt labels or an asterisk indicate required information. The more directly you ask for information, the clearer the evaluation of your form will be.
Use the appropriate type of field
There are many different options for form fields. A radio button for example can be used to make sure a user will only select one choice from a list of choices, while check-boxes let customers choose several choices from a list. If you have too many items on your list to choose from, you may want to consider using a drop-down field to minimize usable space. When you use text boxes for names and addresses, make sure to give each enough space, because not everyone fits the norm. A suggestion for name fields is to leave about 20 characters for each, first and last name. Additionally, create the box as big as the amount of characters given, for an easy overview of information.
Keep it short and clear
Ask yourself what is the most valuable information you need from the customer. Do you really need to know a salutation? Do you need their home phone number if you already asked for their cell phone number? Users are reluctant to give away too much of their personal information and don’t want to spend their time with too many redundant questions.
Users feel more encouraged to give away their personal information when they know that there is a standard for how their personal information will be handled.
Don’t return users to an altered form
We all have missed a required field before, because we were in a hurry or too excited about ordering a new pair of shoes. It is one of the most annoying peeves to run into, when you realize that you have to re-enter all the information once more. Design the form so that it will save all of the information when a user misses a field. Also, don’t annoy users with default settings, that make them have to uncheck the “Can we sent you updates about our products?” a second time around. They will perceive it as an aggressive way of marketing and will wonder if their personal information is in good hands.
Online forms are a great way to communicate with users that live on the other side of the world. The more fun and intuitive they are, the more successful and enlightening they can be.