The pattern is always the same

It's easy to see how clients can be surprised at how much time of theirs, and ours it takes to build something that seems so simple.

I often do it myself .... look at something that I'm sure we can re-create easily to improve the lives of a bunch of users.

But scratching beneath the surface, reveals detail after detail.

For example, we're building an online application form for the Inspire Foundation at the moment. How hard can it be? All we need do is create a bunch of fields to be completed by the eager and talented youth of Canterbury. Currently it's a manual form, posted in, copied and circulated amongst the advisors.

Game on! We can SO do this!

So we create wireframes, agree on them, then roll up our sleeves and start building. After the initial development, when we have screens that we can test for usability, we get the full meaning of “the devil is in the detail".

We have already considered the functional elements of this form:

  • applicants can have multiple grant applications, so they need to have an account
  • we want the applicant to be able see the information that they'll be asked in the application before they create an account
  • the various sections of the form can be completed in almost any order — there's no fixed “this then that"
  • applicants need to be able to start and stop their applications as they please, so the form needs to be really flexible

But it's the subtleties that take the time. It's easy to build screens, but it's how it all fits together that is magic:

  • the brand colours are red and black... we wanted to make sure this felt like it was part of the Inspire brand - any idea how hard it is to use the colour red on an online form?
  • there needs to be a clear workflow, it has to be obvious what to do next. How do you go from creating your profile to completing (or partially completing) an application form in a way that makes sense?
  • we wanted it to be engaging and welcoming rather than intimidating and overwhelming... forms are not the most glamorous piece of functionality and this form is pretty long

There's quite a bit more, but you get the idea.

But the glorious part is watching it coming together... as all of the 'how will it work' questions are answered, the developers take on the challenge and push their creative skills to produce gold!

We pride ourselves on making complicated things look easy. In this case it would have been much simpler to create a flat form that could be completed, section-by-section online — but would we be proud of it? Would it be the best we could muster? Not likely... we want it to be awesome!

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