Web Forms for PeopleDec 14, 2009 In Design By Luke Wroblewski
As the Web has grown, so has the number of ways people use it. Today, it’s not uncommon for Web users to shop, chat with friends or strangers, manage their bank accounts and exercise routines, share photos or videos, and more. In fact, if it can be done online, it probably already is
While this diversity adds richness to the Web, the way most of these tasks are completed does not. Whether it’s checkout in e-commerce, comments on news articles, or managing a fitness routine—Web forms often sit between people and their goals.
Why Web Forms?
Online, Web forms bridge the gap between people, their information, and a Web product or service. They can streamline sales or key customer actions, build communities or conversations, and more. These crucial interactions not only keep businesses running—they also let people accomplish what they want. So why don’t organizations care more about Web form design?
Perhaps they assume Web forms are just "some input fields and a submit button" that should be displayed anytime “data needs to be collected” from users. Maybe they aren’t aware of the many ways Web forms can be optimized to deliver significant results (like an additional 300 million in annual revenue). But most likely, they are simply building Web forms for themselves and not for the people using them.
It’s Not Data Entry
No one really wants to fill in a form; they want what is on the other side: to buy a book, to register to vote, to join a club. They aren’t slogging through a Web form to practice their data entry skills. They have clear goals. Sadly,many Web forms do a poor job of aligning with people’s actual objectives.
Consider this simple form found on the mobile social networking site Brightkite. If someone wants to “keep up with your friends,meet new people, and discover new places” as the service advertises, he or she simply needs to create an account (figure 1).
To begin the process, a user must select a username that is alphanumeric, 3-15 characters long, can have underscores but not spaces, and can’t be a username already set up on the mobile version of the service. Are any of these requirements there so people can select a name that best represents them? No. They are system requirements that force people to adapt to the security models or back-end data structures of the site.
The next set of questions doesn’t fare much better. Brightkite needs your email address so they can send you a confirmation note. You need a password that is at least 3 characters long and you need to repeat it so you don’t send any typos to Brightkite. Then, you verify you are a human BY thee helps reel in the information Web forms require. When constructing a Web form, consider:
- Is this information necessary to give people what they want (the core purpose of the application)? If not, chances are people will question why they are being asked.
- Will there be a better time to collect this information? Asking people for information once they are already using an application is often more successful than asking them before they start using the application.
- Is there a way to explain why certain information is required? Clarifying how the information being collected aligns with people’s goals helps reassure them that they are making forward progress.
- Are there better ways of collecting the information needed? After all, Web forms are not the only way to get input from people online.
To illustrate this approach, let’s see how Brightkite redesigned their experience (figure 3) to put their core purpose, “keeping up with your friends”, front and center. The primary action on the site’s home page now invites people to connect to their Facebook friends, instead of creating a new Brightkite account. This one-click process sets people up with an already existing identity and friends (from Facebook) without the cumbersome sign-up form shown in figure 1.
So while Brightkite and tookmark are different services, they both were able to avoid lengthy sign-up forms, reflect their service’s core purpose through a few lightweight interactions, and make people instantly successful.
That’s the essence of building Web forms for people. When done right, there are barely any forms left—only successful users.
Learn More about Web Form Design
If you’re looking to make your Web application’s forms better, then you don’t want to miss Luke Wroblewski’s Web Form Design session at MIX 10 in Las Vegas, NV. It will be packed with best practices you can put to use right away. Anyone in the MIX community can also get Luke’s book, Web Form Design: Filling in the Blanks, at a special 20% off (with discount code MIX).