Most people believe the forms they fill out are pretty bad either from a layout perspective or from a logic perspective which usually leads to a frustrated customer or incomplete information gathered.

Adding a form is really just part of a process of information gathering. So understanding why and what information you are gathering becomes the critical elements of a digital forms design project.

Insights into the "why"

Let look at “why” first. There could be many reasons why we need to gather information but possible the best reason is capture factual data, opinions or permissions on a subject resulting in an actionable task. But most forms are not created for that reason. They are created because current systems do not have the processes to put the required information together or to present that information correctly to a person to agree to. We will cover off this in another blog post in the future so lets get back to the why. My initial thought when I see a request for a new form is to assess:

1. If the information is required as part of the form completer’s facts, opinions or permissions?

2. Does the form receiver need to action something after receiving the form?

If the answer is yes to both then there is justification for a new form! Now before you ask what about checklists, some checklists are forms and some are not, more on that subject later.

Ok to finish off write a quick sentence that links the two questions above, an example would be; We need the information gathered to know if the form submitter has followed all the work health and safety procedures to work on this site and we need to validate the form once submitted and store it for 7 years. This now becomes the first part of the new form documentation.

Insights into the "what"

What information do we want from the form completer?  This generally is a long list of requirements and what’s one more question? When starting to list the information, create a sheet with three columns. The fist column is the information we think we require, yes go wild add as many pieces of information as you want. When working with clients I usually see forms with a large number of information requirements which is invariably help trim down to a quarter of the initial list. The next column is why do we need this? Keep them simple and be honest, if you cannot find a reason simply add “??” in the column and come back to it later. There will be one or two questions were they are the hero of the form, these are the Major Questions. In the why mark these as the major questions and any questions that follow on from this major question.

In column three we add one of these four labels; Critical, Required, Beneficial or Optional. Critical should be used against those pieces of information that are a must for the form to be successful as per the why statement. Required are for those that are required, make sense. Beneficial or optional are for those were there is a need but they won’t make or break the success of the new form.

Next week we will go into more detail on the sheet, catch you then.