The humble web form is often taken as simply a part of the online furniture. We use one most days – to send an email via a website, to register as a user of a service, or fill in a survey. They are so ubiquitous, though, that they can become a bit invisible.
But web forms, like any other element of a website, need to be designed. Web forms don’t just come into existence by accident or magic. There is instead a whole raft of good design practices worth considering when putting together a form for any purpose.
How people use forms differs according to their function, of course – but a user’s expectations must be paramount in any web form planning. Consider how they will access the form, and how easy you can make completing the form for every single user – the easier it is, the more sign-ups, contacts or sales you will encourage.
Consider these five golden rules for designing great web forms:
The greatest danger in using forms lies in their appearing cluttered. Using in-field labels is an elegant solution – and can also help with saving space. Instead of the label appearing beside the field into which a user enters data, it should appear within that space – and then move the label either above the field or to the side when someone clicks into it, so they are reminded of what information they need to put into the field.
Web forms are often used behind sign-in barriers, or even as sign-in mechanisms themselves. This can be a redundant step – and one which acts as an obstruction to completion. Try to reduce this potential. Almost everyone has a social media account these days, and allowing users to sign-in with their social details makes their lives much easier. They essentially have a key to most of the internet – and they’ll go through a lot more doors as a result.
Many web forms and contact forms may return an ‘error message’ when a field is complete incorrectly or contains a special character. Be sure to help your users in these cases: specify what they have done wrong in the message and provide a resolution. Otherwise, they are likely simply to give up.
Those privacy bullets that appear when you type sensitive information into a form – your password, for example – are there to provide more privacy. By hiding the characters you type, privacy bullets prevent anyone peering over your shoulder being able to steal your data. However, allowing users to toggle whether they want to hide their information is actually better for usability – what if they need to see their password to know whether they have entered it properly?
If your web form needs users to enter information in a specific way, then it’s a good idea to let them know. Perhaps you require a particular date format – DD/MM/YYYY or MM/DD/YY – or insist on particular characters in a password. Be clear about that. This can help streamline your users’ workflow, and lower frustration when they haven’t entered an answer that meets your requirements.
All of this measures will effectively increase your conversion rates – and that’s why, humble and unheralded as they might be, you should always follow these five tips for designing web forms!
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