by Chad Reid, Director of Communications for JotForm
2015 is a renaissance of sorts for do-it-yourselfers, with web forms right in the thick of it. For many years, the only way you could have an online form embedded on your website was if a developer put it there. Now? Anyone can build their own contact, survey, application or event registration form without knowing a lick of code.
But with this new found power comes new responsibility. It’s crucial to understand the essentials of form building before you go out plastering the web with your new, information-collecting creations.You might not think it, but a lot can go wrong with a simple online form.
Here are the three most important aspects to consider when creating an online form:
1. Separate the information you need from the information you want.
Form building sure does offer its share of temptation. For instance, you might be inclined to see your form as a way of extracting every possible bit of information from your respondents. But let’s hold on that.
Know before you even start making your first form what information you need versus what information you merely want. Asking too many questions on a form seriously runs the risk of losing visitors and not getting any of their information altogether.
But if it’s necessary that your form be long (and sometimes it is), then serious attention needs to paid to structure. You still need to be mindful of brevity, and the logical order of questions asked becomes increasingly significant.
2. Consider flow.
Form expert and author of “Forms that Work“, Caroline Jarrett, says in her book that forms should flow just as a spoken conversation would. Things need to make sense, and there should be a logical order in which the questions are asked.
A lot of form makers wrongfully assume that just by asking the right questions that their day is done. But there’s an art to creating flow that works. Especially with longer forms, think about which sections make the most sense to be placed where. If you’re asking for personal information right off the bat, it would feel disruptive to the form respondent if you asked for more personal information following the address fields, for instance.
The tiniest things can derail someone from completing a form. Inconsistent or illogical flow tells responders something seems unprofessional, or worse, illegitimate.
3. Remember that appearance matters.
The objective of your form’s appearance should simultaneously fulfil two needs: making your form look professional, and making your form look easy.
There are a few things to keep in mind when making an attractive form. Firstly, know what your organization’s branding guidelines are. If you don’t have any, now’s not a bad time to start. Your form should match the aesthetics of the rest of your website, even if your form is used as a standalone link that’s separate from your site. Consistency conveys professionalism. And while people may not notice that your form has the same colors, fonts, and branding as the rest of your organization; they’ll notice if it’s different.
Of course, a pretty form means nothing if it appears to be daunting to the user. Consider spacing and font readability so that it looks approachable. At the end of the day, you’re hoping for the highest percentage of completed forms possible.
There was a time when actually designing the fine details of your form took some serious technical prowess. Luckily, that’s no longer the case. Many do-it-yourself form building platforms offer varying levels of custom theme design with the non-technical user in mind.
The most useful form building platforms are drag-and-drop and simple. The great thing is that most of them are inexpensive, sometimes even free. Do you have much experience creating your own online forms? What do you consider to be the most important aspects? Let us know!
Chad Reid is a career marketer and currently Director of Communications forJotForm, a popular online form builder. He currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and writes for various tech and business publications.