With the advent of modern technology and new standards, the face of the Internet has evolved and so have our beloved websites. Websites are no longer limited to being informational portals for business firms that are in need of a communication channel for sharing information with their end-users. In order for a website design to be successful, you have to consider much more than this initial functionality: your visitors and the user experience of your site.
There are many aspects of your website that contribute to the overall user experience. A web form is one of the best ways to get input from prospective clients and indirectly establish a cordial relation with them. The time you spent in bringing the user to your website should be complemented with the time spent in perfecting the user experience, including your web forms. It is surprising to note that many of us are in a habit of ignoring this fact. The result: Complex and frustrating web forms that cause a negative experience.
In the following, let’s take a closer look at web forms, their role for the user experience, and what you can do to improve them.
The autonomy and importance of web forms
A web form is a medium that allows your visitors to get in contact with you and to send information, such as an order, a catalog request, or even a query, which is passed on to your database. On some websites, information that is submitted through web forms is transferred directly to the company e-mail. Web forms are constructed in programming languages like PHP, HTML, or Java. A successful implementation of the code is essential for the success of the form.
Web forms can for example include the following form field: text boxes, text areas, radio buttons, check boxes, dropdown lists, hidden fields, file upload, and buttons.
A web form often acts as a communication bridge that allows a user to communicate with a company and vice versa. Illogical and inappropriate questions can hamper the company image quite easily. For example, you want the users to create an account with your website. Asking for a residential address would be quite irrelevant. The first thing that comes to his mind will be “Why do you need my residential address for just a sign-up?”. This not only causes confusion, but also distrust and chances are good that people don’t go through with the signup at all.
You should know your target audience and market to frame relevant questions on a web form. You can either do the research yourself, or get in touch with a good web consulting firm to evaluate your target market and create sensible questions accordingly.
How to design better web forms
There are a few things you can do to improve the experience your visitors will have when using your web forms. Let’s take a look at a couple of general ideas as well as best practices for better web forms.
Inform the visitor
Information is the key to a perfect user experience on any respective website. Therefore it is important to educate your visitors about anything they might want to know about filling in your web form. This can for example be why they need to fill in a form to begin with, what happens with the data, or why you ask for certain information. Highlighting the primary reason for filling in a web form is reassuring for your visitors and keeps them from getting frustrated.
Especially form fields that are not very common, or self explaining might need some explanatory information. Not all your visitors might be used to filling in web forms, or they might not understand your question. Adding help text allows you to offer additional information in a subtle and unobtrusive way. You don’t want to distract, but will want to offer assistance if needed.
Consider different languages
It is important that you consider the language you use for your web forms. Not everyone, who is visiting your website might be comfortable with your primary language. Moreover, if your company seeks an international audience, you should take into account multiple languages. This counts not only for the form labels, but also for your verifications and error messages.
General best pratices
While the above were rather general, here are some concrete best practices of what you can do to improve the experience of your web forms.
Keep it simple
- Keep it simple. Only ask for information that you really need.
- Order form fields in a logical way and by their importance.
- Make clear what you expect by showing examples in front of the form field (e.g. abc@Xmail.com).
- Allow users to toggle through the form using their keyboard.
- Offer likely default values
Offer clear error messages
- Use on the fly error messages to give direct feedback and allow users to make instant corrections.
- Spacing between fields allow users to easily relate error messages to the respective form field.
- Be specific about your error messages.
- Save correct data in case the user has to go back to make corrections.
- Highlight mandatory fields to avoid frustration.
- Use color combinations to inform the user about his progress while filling in the form (e.g. red for any ‘error or incomplete’ information while green signifies ‘correct’).
- Indicate steps to make the process of filling in the web form clear.
- Offer clear feedback after user submitted the data.
The best web form is one that initiates user action and anticipates better user participation. Before you start creating a web form, it is important to understand common mistakes that a user makes. Filling in a form should not strike the user as annoying or disturbing task. Therefore it is important to keep it clear, simple, and trustworthy. I sincerely hope this compilation proves to be of help for understanding the importance of web forms and improving the user experience.