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Design tips
for complex forms
Caroline Jarrett
Clarity 2010 Lisbon
FORMS
CONTENT
Caroline Jarrett
twitter @cjforms
caroline.jarrett@effortmark.co.uk
2
A lot of forms advice is about forms like this…
http://www.lukew.com/resources/articles/PSactions.asp
3
So what happens if we have to work with this?
© Effortmark Ltd, from “Forms that work: Designing web forms for usability"
4
Some examples
of complex forms
• Lasting power of attorney
for health and personal
affairs
– “Living will”
5
Some examples
of complex forms
• Claim for housing benefit (help with rent)
6
Some examples
of complex forms
• Privacy on
Facebook
http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/0
5/12/business/facebook-privacy.html
7
Some reasons for complexity
• Relationship
– More than one user involved
– Stressful or unclear consequences
– Need to be kept updated over time
• Conversation
– Variable sections
– Questions about difficult concepts
– Variety of sources for the answers
• Appearance
– Multiple pages
– Lots of boxes, lines, and rules
8
Complexity affects all
three layers of the form
• Relationship
– More than one user involved
– Stressful or unclear consequences
– Need to be kept updated over time
• Conversation
– Variable sections
– Questions about difficult concepts
– Variety of sources for the answers
• Appearance
– Multiple pages
– Lots of boxes, lines, and rules
9
Complexity affects all
three layers of the form
• Relationship
– More than one user involved
– Stressful or unclear consequences
– Need to be kept updated over time
• Conversation
– Variable sections
– Questions about difficult concepts
– Variety of sources for the answers
• Appearance
– Multiple pages
– Lots of boxes, lines, and rules
10
Relationship Tips that are about
understanding the users
and the business process
As with any form, you should be
observing people filling in the
form, and also observing people
dealing with the forms.
11
Tip: Try a ‘replay study’ where users go back
over a complex form with you
• The challenge and complications:
– To understand how users are interacting with the current form(s)
– Can’t do a conventional usability test because the answers are too complex to replicate in a
scenario
The idea:
– A field study, using a neutral set of materials
• (prototype on computer, paper copies)
– Participants use your set of materials as a prompt to explain what they
would usually do
• Example:
– Dealing with a complex package of government forms, I got users to flip through a fresh set
of blank forms to help them recall their experiences
12
Tip:
Use sample tracking to understand the process
• The challenge:
– To explore all the details of a business process, not just the easy parts
– Complex business processes often include offline, online, and multi-channel working
• The complications:
– Simple forms are dealt with straight away, but some get diverted for special treatment
The idea:
– Choose a sample of forms, e.g. those received on
a particular day, in a single hour, in a specific 5 minutes
– Track those forms through all subsequent processes
– Identify exactly what happens e.g. emails, calls, special handling
• Examples:
– Application for university course, a complex benefit, or health insurance
13
Conversation Tips that are about helping users
to find the answers
A key challenge of any form is
finding the answers. A complex
form will often need people to
gather answers from other
sources, or to make important
decisions
14
Tip:
Give them a form when they want a form
• The challenge:
– There are many different forms e.g. according to type of application, jurisdiction, eligibility
The idea:
– Make sure that you have a single decision page
– Get users answering questions as quickly as possible
• Examples:
– Finding a housing benefit form
15
16
17
18
The link I needed was on that page,
but required scrolling. A lot.
19
20
21
22
23
Tip:
Provide a list of materials for users to assemble
• The challenge:
– Users have to gather their answers from a range of different sources
• The complications:
– Users may not realise that they’ll need all sorts of bits and pieces
The idea
– Provide a list of the items that the users will need
Even better idea
– Get users to answer a series of questions about the specific items
• Variation
– Provide a cast of characters (people involved in preparing the form)
24
Application for a
student loan:
typical example
25
Application for a student loan:
slightly better example
26
Tip:
Help users to understand the decisions needed
• The challenge:
– Complex forms may require considerable thought
– Your organisation knows the about what decisions are needed; the users don’t.
The ideas:
– Provide links to appropriate advice
– Provide a help line number (most users won’t use it, but it’s reassuring)
– Set up a checklist or quiz: “Are you ready?”
• Examples: Advance Directives.
– These forms require decision-making over years
– Users need to understand those decisions
27
Maryland, USA
has a checklist
http://www.oag.state.md.us/healthpol/adirective.pdf
28
Advice from the American Bar Association
From the American Bar Association http://www.abanet.org/aging/toolkit/
29
Advice from the American Bar Association
http://www.abanet.org/aging/toolkit/tool6.pdf
30
Tip: Use layered guidance
• The challenge:
– Complex questions and concepts require a lot of explanation
The idea
– 80/20 rules apply to guidance on forms.
– Put guidance for the most common items directly on the form
– Guidance for less common items can be placed in separate help files
– Guidance for very uncommon items could be further hidden away
• Example: guidance for boxes on tax returns
31
From the UK
tax return online
Rent out a room
in my home?
32
And more detailed
Rent out a room
in my home as
my main trade?
33
And more detailed
34
Rent out a room
in my home as
my main trade?
And more detailed
Rent out a room
in my home as
my main trade?
35
Fema explains the information you need,
and lots of help before, during and after applying
36http://www.fema.gov/assistance/index.shtm
A conversation
that flows
Tips that are about organizing the
flow of a complex form
The usual ideas about providing
screen-by-screen validations often
break down for complex forms
37
Tip: Use a summary menu
instead of a progress indicator
• The challenge:
– It helps users if they can see how much they have done on the form,
but the form doesn’t ‘progress’ from screen to screen
The idea
–Use a summary menu so that users can choose
which part of the form to do next
• Example:
US government Central Contractor Registration form
38
The summary menu changes
as you finish chunks of the form
39
Tip:
Work hard to have great save/resume features
• The challenge:
– Users have to assemble data from several sources,
so they are unlikely to fill in the form in one session.
The idea
–Ensure that they can save the form and get back to
where they were without difficulty
–Have a retention policy
• Decide how long you will retain partially-completed forms
• Decide whether or not you will tell the user about this
• Example:
– In a review of job application forms on 6 top-rated UK local government web sites, only one
site had good save and resume features
40
Appearance Tips that are about making
complex forms look good.
A long, difficult form is a
daunting thing for a user.
41
Tip: Avoid two-column forms
• The challenge:
– You have a large number of fields and the form looks dauntingly long
– It’s tempting to use two (or even more) columns to crush
the fields into a smaller space
The idea
– If your users will use the form constantly as part of their everyday
work, do contextual enquiry to find out whether a tightly-packed
layout will be more or less efficient for them
– If your users encounter the form infrequently,
avoid two-column forms. Even if your form is well-designed,
users often see poorly-designed examples and will bring that
experience with them to your form.
• Examples:
– Two-column forms are easy to mess up, giving a poor reading order 42
Two column form.
What is the reading order?
43
Two column form.
What is the reading order?
44
Two column form.
What is the reading order?
45
Tip: Segment the form by topic;
and if multiple users are involved, by user
• The challenge:
– You have a large number of fields and the form looks dauntingly long
The idea
– Cut the form into smaller sections. It will seem less difficult.
– Don’t go crazy! You want chunks that are big enough to create topics.
• Example:
– not the most complicated, but a type of form many of us are familiar with:
the event submission
46
Splitting everything up makes it look as if
nothing goes together
47
Stripping out some of the lines creates better
chunks (and makes the form look shorter)
48
Question
time
Caroline Jarrett
caroline.jarrett@effortmark.co.uk
@cjforms
+44 1525 370379
I’m a consultant, hire me:
Consultancy: www.effortmark.co.uk
Training: www.usabilitythatworks.com
Free stuff:
Forms advice: www.formsthatwork.com
Editing: www.editingthatworks.com
Columns: www.usabilitynews.com
“Caroline’s Corner”
www.uxmatters.com
“Good Questions”
49

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Complex forms at Clarity2010

  • 1. Design tips for complex forms Caroline Jarrett Clarity 2010 Lisbon FORMS CONTENT
  • 3. A lot of forms advice is about forms like this… http://www.lukew.com/resources/articles/PSactions.asp 3
  • 4. So what happens if we have to work with this? © Effortmark Ltd, from “Forms that work: Designing web forms for usability" 4
  • 5. Some examples of complex forms • Lasting power of attorney for health and personal affairs – “Living will” 5
  • 6. Some examples of complex forms • Claim for housing benefit (help with rent) 6
  • 7. Some examples of complex forms • Privacy on Facebook http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/0 5/12/business/facebook-privacy.html 7
  • 8. Some reasons for complexity • Relationship – More than one user involved – Stressful or unclear consequences – Need to be kept updated over time • Conversation – Variable sections – Questions about difficult concepts – Variety of sources for the answers • Appearance – Multiple pages – Lots of boxes, lines, and rules 8
  • 9. Complexity affects all three layers of the form • Relationship – More than one user involved – Stressful or unclear consequences – Need to be kept updated over time • Conversation – Variable sections – Questions about difficult concepts – Variety of sources for the answers • Appearance – Multiple pages – Lots of boxes, lines, and rules 9
  • 10. Complexity affects all three layers of the form • Relationship – More than one user involved – Stressful or unclear consequences – Need to be kept updated over time • Conversation – Variable sections – Questions about difficult concepts – Variety of sources for the answers • Appearance – Multiple pages – Lots of boxes, lines, and rules 10
  • 11. Relationship Tips that are about understanding the users and the business process As with any form, you should be observing people filling in the form, and also observing people dealing with the forms. 11
  • 12. Tip: Try a ‘replay study’ where users go back over a complex form with you • The challenge and complications: – To understand how users are interacting with the current form(s) – Can’t do a conventional usability test because the answers are too complex to replicate in a scenario The idea: – A field study, using a neutral set of materials • (prototype on computer, paper copies) – Participants use your set of materials as a prompt to explain what they would usually do • Example: – Dealing with a complex package of government forms, I got users to flip through a fresh set of blank forms to help them recall their experiences 12
  • 13. Tip: Use sample tracking to understand the process • The challenge: – To explore all the details of a business process, not just the easy parts – Complex business processes often include offline, online, and multi-channel working • The complications: – Simple forms are dealt with straight away, but some get diverted for special treatment The idea: – Choose a sample of forms, e.g. those received on a particular day, in a single hour, in a specific 5 minutes – Track those forms through all subsequent processes – Identify exactly what happens e.g. emails, calls, special handling • Examples: – Application for university course, a complex benefit, or health insurance 13
  • 14. Conversation Tips that are about helping users to find the answers A key challenge of any form is finding the answers. A complex form will often need people to gather answers from other sources, or to make important decisions 14
  • 15. Tip: Give them a form when they want a form • The challenge: – There are many different forms e.g. according to type of application, jurisdiction, eligibility The idea: – Make sure that you have a single decision page – Get users answering questions as quickly as possible • Examples: – Finding a housing benefit form 15
  • 16. 16
  • 17. 17
  • 18. 18
  • 19. The link I needed was on that page, but required scrolling. A lot. 19
  • 20. 20
  • 21. 21
  • 22. 22
  • 23. 23
  • 24. Tip: Provide a list of materials for users to assemble • The challenge: – Users have to gather their answers from a range of different sources • The complications: – Users may not realise that they’ll need all sorts of bits and pieces The idea – Provide a list of the items that the users will need Even better idea – Get users to answer a series of questions about the specific items • Variation – Provide a cast of characters (people involved in preparing the form) 24
  • 25. Application for a student loan: typical example 25
  • 26. Application for a student loan: slightly better example 26
  • 27. Tip: Help users to understand the decisions needed • The challenge: – Complex forms may require considerable thought – Your organisation knows the about what decisions are needed; the users don’t. The ideas: – Provide links to appropriate advice – Provide a help line number (most users won’t use it, but it’s reassuring) – Set up a checklist or quiz: “Are you ready?” • Examples: Advance Directives. – These forms require decision-making over years – Users need to understand those decisions 27
  • 28. Maryland, USA has a checklist http://www.oag.state.md.us/healthpol/adirective.pdf 28
  • 29. Advice from the American Bar Association From the American Bar Association http://www.abanet.org/aging/toolkit/ 29
  • 30. Advice from the American Bar Association http://www.abanet.org/aging/toolkit/tool6.pdf 30
  • 31. Tip: Use layered guidance • The challenge: – Complex questions and concepts require a lot of explanation The idea – 80/20 rules apply to guidance on forms. – Put guidance for the most common items directly on the form – Guidance for less common items can be placed in separate help files – Guidance for very uncommon items could be further hidden away • Example: guidance for boxes on tax returns 31
  • 32. From the UK tax return online Rent out a room in my home? 32
  • 33. And more detailed Rent out a room in my home as my main trade? 33
  • 34. And more detailed 34 Rent out a room in my home as my main trade?
  • 35. And more detailed Rent out a room in my home as my main trade? 35
  • 36. Fema explains the information you need, and lots of help before, during and after applying 36http://www.fema.gov/assistance/index.shtm
  • 37. A conversation that flows Tips that are about organizing the flow of a complex form The usual ideas about providing screen-by-screen validations often break down for complex forms 37
  • 38. Tip: Use a summary menu instead of a progress indicator • The challenge: – It helps users if they can see how much they have done on the form, but the form doesn’t ‘progress’ from screen to screen The idea –Use a summary menu so that users can choose which part of the form to do next • Example: US government Central Contractor Registration form 38
  • 39. The summary menu changes as you finish chunks of the form 39
  • 40. Tip: Work hard to have great save/resume features • The challenge: – Users have to assemble data from several sources, so they are unlikely to fill in the form in one session. The idea –Ensure that they can save the form and get back to where they were without difficulty –Have a retention policy • Decide how long you will retain partially-completed forms • Decide whether or not you will tell the user about this • Example: – In a review of job application forms on 6 top-rated UK local government web sites, only one site had good save and resume features 40
  • 41. Appearance Tips that are about making complex forms look good. A long, difficult form is a daunting thing for a user. 41
  • 42. Tip: Avoid two-column forms • The challenge: – You have a large number of fields and the form looks dauntingly long – It’s tempting to use two (or even more) columns to crush the fields into a smaller space The idea – If your users will use the form constantly as part of their everyday work, do contextual enquiry to find out whether a tightly-packed layout will be more or less efficient for them – If your users encounter the form infrequently, avoid two-column forms. Even if your form is well-designed, users often see poorly-designed examples and will bring that experience with them to your form. • Examples: – Two-column forms are easy to mess up, giving a poor reading order 42
  • 43. Two column form. What is the reading order? 43
  • 44. Two column form. What is the reading order? 44
  • 45. Two column form. What is the reading order? 45
  • 46. Tip: Segment the form by topic; and if multiple users are involved, by user • The challenge: – You have a large number of fields and the form looks dauntingly long The idea – Cut the form into smaller sections. It will seem less difficult. – Don’t go crazy! You want chunks that are big enough to create topics. • Example: – not the most complicated, but a type of form many of us are familiar with: the event submission 46
  • 47. Splitting everything up makes it look as if nothing goes together 47
  • 48. Stripping out some of the lines creates better chunks (and makes the form look shorter) 48
  • 49. Question time Caroline Jarrett caroline.jarrett@effortmark.co.uk @cjforms +44 1525 370379 I’m a consultant, hire me: Consultancy: www.effortmark.co.uk Training: www.usabilitythatworks.com Free stuff: Forms advice: www.formsthatwork.com Editing: www.editingthatworks.com Columns: www.usabilitynews.com “Caroline’s Corner” www.uxmatters.com “Good Questions” 49