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Martine Farrugia
Written by

Martine Farrugia
They're an integral part of the user journey – but forms which aren't optimized create barriers between you and your customer.

Forms don’t always get the attention they deserve.

The result? User drop-off, silly errors, and lots of time spent following up.

Here are our five golden rules to building forms that save you lots of time – and lots of money.

1. Is it confusing? Fix it.

K. D. Lang might work in a very different industry to us, but she’s full of insight worth listening to. She once said, ‘You have to respect your audience. Without them, you’re essentially standing alone, singing to yourself.’

For form designers, that means understanding your reader’s needs. Then putting these first.

You don’t know your customers, and you don’t know how much pressure they’re under to fill the form in when they pick it up. They might be filling in an order. Or they might be claiming on an insurance policy. Or joining you. Whatever it is, they want something.

The only thing standing between them and whatever ‘something’ is, is your form. To avoid frustration and get them over the line if it’s an acquisition job, form designers make sure everything’s as simple as possible.

And you also need to give them some context. So make sure you tell them:

  • who needs to fill in the form?
  • why should they complete it?
  • what should they complete?
  • how do they return it?
  • what do they get?
Form designers created this Charles Stanley form
Setting the scene with upfront instructions

2. Direct the traffic

British politician Margaret Thatcher once said: ‘Standing in the middle of the road is very dangerous; you get knocked down by the traffic from both sides.’

She has a point. An effective form needs to flow logically (in one direction), backed up by sectioning and clear instructions for the reader. Otherwise, they’re just bombarded with information from every direction.

It’s all about creating a narrative for the form, moving through things in an order that makes sense, and breaking everything down into modular blocks that make sense to the reader.

Think of it as a workout. First, warm your user up by asking them for simple bits and pieces like their name and address. Build up to the questions that require a little more effort. By the time they get there, they’ll already be invested in the form, so they’re less likely to give up when confronted by something slightly tricky.

3. Use the right tools, and pick the right form designers

According to Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle, ‘Man is a tool-using animal. Without tools he is nothing, with tools he is all.’ So always pick the right tools for the job.

Too often, the ‘easy way’ is seen to be a series of tables created in Microsoft Word. But the results are almost always far from desirable.

That’s why you need professional design programs on your side – and the professional designers to back it up. With this software, designers can create templates that flow smoothly and even add interactivity, including validation and verification functions, so that forms check themselves for formatting errors and remind users when fields are skipped by mistake. Resulting in forms that actually increase your conversion rates and save time, all by themselves.

Plus, pro form designers will roll out your brand to your forms, so that they actually look like they belong to your company, rather than feeling generic. After putting all the effort into devising a great brand, why let any opportunity go to waste?

Al Rayan Bank form error
In-field validation can eliminate errors in a flash

4. Ensure brevity isn’t your enemy

Sometimes, forms seem like they’re going on forever. So it’s tempting to squash everything into as tight a space as possible. And after all, brevity is often praised above all else when it comes to writing.

Resist the urge to apply the same line of thinking to your forms.

Cramming everything into a few pages might save you a few bucks on printing, but your customer service will pick up the slack when the complaints and errors come flooding in.

Normally, it’s more expensive (in terms of overheads) to put things right than to get it right with a fantastic form in the first place. Here are a few ways to help guide people through forms which are a little longer:

  • Color code the form to divide up the information, so it’s easy to spot where each section begins and ends.
  • Guide your customers with plain language within the form. Don’t make them dig out other documents to guide them.
  • Match up your fields with the kind of information you’re looking for. Asking for a date? Use a comb box or a clickable calendar to make it obvious.
Barclays Corporate bank digital form
Set expectations with fields designed to tell half the story

5. Add the finishing touches

Your form is a part of your business. So it needs to be on brand – you can’t just stick your logo on the cover and call it a day.

By bringing in all your brand elements, like icons, colors, and even photography, you make your form easy to spot in a stack. And you give your customers reassurance that they’re dealing with someone they trust.

It’s also about consistency, which is key to any long-term comms strategy. You need to set out your brand as clearly as possible in everything you do, to increase unprompted recall and recognition.

Guardian paper forms
Let your forms act as an extension of your brand with fonts, iconography and color all playing their part

Our form designers know all about combining creative information design with simple, effective language. So come and talk to us. We’ll create forms that make a real difference to your business.

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