When it comes to forms, many customers don't like them and in some cases, that's putting it mildly. Their reasons range from fear of being spammed to inability to get the form to work to resenting the company's attempt to start a relationship when all they want to do is click the 'buy' button and move on. But in this era of data and statistics, forms are a necessary evil on all sides of the equation.
In the usability field, a form is a different kind of animal that requires its own set of rules. They help designers to understand customer needs and behaviors which can help improve the user experience in the long run. So, as designers, how can we make dealing with forms less of a pain?
- Show the benefit to the user - Because forms are so ubiquitous, users have a tendency to become defensive. A great way to mellow out their defenses is to show them the value the form has for them. For example, if they know that filling out this form now will help them achieve their goal faster then they are more likely to behave with less trepidation.
- Make sure the form is in the right place - For sites that want users to subscribe, the best place to get their information is on the landing page. For e-commerce sites especially, form placement is even more critical. The last thing users want is to be delayed in finishing their transaction or to make it look like they have to fight you to give you their money. Finding the right place for the form helps the user feel more comfortable because they know what to expect and where to expect it.
- Make sure the form works - The simpler the form, the more this is taken for granted. Changes in email, failing to give the user feedback about form submission success or failure, failing to give the user cues as to the proper format of the information needed, these little details create the user's experience.
- Show them the way - Anyone who's ever been on a plane and has paid attention to the flight procedures presentation remembers the part about how in the case of a crash, the path will be lit so that passengers can find their way. This same concept applies to forms. Show them the clearly lit path that will take them to the exit quickly and safely.
- Ask, "does the user need to answer this question right now in order to achieve their goal?" - The key term there is right now. If a user sees that filling out the form aligns with the context of the site and his/her goals then they will want to fill out the form. The temptation is to take advantage of that and ask them as much as possible. That's where designers need to stop themselves ask that question. If the answer is no, then leave it out.
- User's need vs. business goals - We know that the data from forms is used by marketing, legal, IT, and/or any other entity so that's why it's important to achieve that balance between what the business needs and what the user is willing to give. Negotiations can be tricky but putting the user's needs ahead of business stats means happier users and increased business.
Having to fill out a form for any reason may not give the user the "warm & fuzzies" but if you make the form relevant to the context of the site, fast, simple, you'll lessen the resentment and get the data you need.
So, what other ways can you think of to make forms less of a hassle to the user? Tell us what you think!