Websites have become more and more complex as technologies continually advance. What began as simple groups of webpages have evolved into rich and interactive experiences.
Online forms are a crucial part of this experience, because they're often the place where the most complex interactions happen.
Just imagine if customers said that using your form was enjoyable – that it guided them through the process and felt rewarding at the end. That kind of positive user experience doesn't happen by accident or by plug 'n' play, it happens by careful design and implementation.
User experience design is a balance of many different factors that come together to effect how someone feels when they use your website or application.
Why should you care about UX? If a customer has a negative experience using your form, it undermines your brand and lowers conversions which negatively impacts the bottom line.
The term 'usability' is often used interchangeably with UX, but usability is actually just one of the factors contributing to the overall user experience. Depending on your customers' context and objectives, usability may be prioritised first or it might take a back seat.
The route on the left is easy-to-use and efficient - it will get you there faster but you probably won't bother taking any photos along the
way. Usability is prioritised above all else.
The route on the right will take longer, but with beautiful scenery and a winding road, it's going to be more enjoyable for many (unless you get car sick). Here usability is downplayed in favour of enjoyment, excitement and a more memorable journey.
Audience and Context
Who is going to be using the form?
It's important to know your audience before designing a form, as different demographics will have different priorities, needs, and preferences.
A young computer gamer entering a competition might enjoy quirks and challenges that others find annoying. In the context of entering a competition, certain challenges built into the form may help build a mini sense of achievement and exclusiveness.
At the other end of the spectrum, a senior citizen who simply wants to pay their parking fine online wants as little fuss as possible. They may not be tech-savvy and don't want to be burdened with having to decipher complex form controls and inputs. Usability is more important here.
All forms are there to facilitate a certain process, whether that process is to submit an application, make a payment, enter a competition, or complete a review. It may be a desirable process or it may be undesirable but mandatory.
Where your process sits on this scale should help determine how to approach the design.
Usability and efficiency are key for an undesirable process: just let them get in and out without causing headaches. That could mean making a payment form really easy, or pre-filling some of their information for them if possible. For instance if they enter a parking fine infringement number, all other details including the total should be preloaded.
For the more desirable process, it might be a case of building the excitement, by emphasising the benefits and adding playful elements. In this case perhaps the form lets them know the sportscar they could win goes from 0-100km in the time its taken them to enter their first name.
Test with Real Users
There’s nothing like watching a group of customers in person interact with your site to give you some cold, hard, instant feedback on UX.
Success or failure depends on how your users interact with the form, so don't wait until you've launched to find out. Get real users involved early in the process with prototypes for feedback. Then you can be assured that when you do launch it to the world it's already been road-tested with your target audience.
User Experience is Worth It
Spending the time to craft a good user experience upfront will pay back every time a customer interacts with your form. And the quality of that experience is a direct reflection of your product or service, so it’s well worth the effort.
Read more articles in this series;
Love your online form – 4. user experience