Online and interactive forms and questionnaires

Having to design for the worst case and for the majority of form-filler’s circumstances mean that many traditional forms contain questions, and sometimes whole sections, that are not relevant to them. One great feature of interactive and online forms is their ability to tailor the questions that the form-filler sees, based on their customer segment, or based on the answers they provide, for example. This article covers some of the key issues and opportunities in designing and developing online forms.

Line up the fields, and make the fields the right length
Each field that a form-filler has to complete has to have a question or label, indicating what information you want them to provide. It’s simple to run the fields next to your labels, but to visually cue users in to the start of each field, it’s best to align the labels right (and stack them vertically) and then align the fields left so that they all line up. This makes it easier for form-fillers to see the start of each field. Also, make the length of each response field reflect the length of your expected answer. This reassures form-fillers that they are providing the information that you require.

Accordion forms
Accordion forms reveal sections to the user as they progress through it. Each section is ‘collapsed’ under a section strip, and the user clicks each strip to reveal the section. This is becoming a common online form mechanism, and research seems to suggest that users fill them in more quickly as they get more of an overview sense of how long the form is, and where they are in the interaction. In addition, accordion forms bring all the complex content together under one set of over-arching controls.

Progressive disclosure
This is one of the most powerful features of interactive forms – the ability to only show the form-filler the questions that are relevant to them. Based on the form-filler’s response to certain questions, the next ‘screen’ will display (or the next question will…

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