Monday, August 20, 2007

How to Improve Your Web Forms

by Jason Smith

As you settle down to create a web form, chances are this is your first attempt - meaning there will be room for improvement. In your experience on the Web, you will have probably come across a poorly designed web form before, but never stopped to think how it became that way. When you start to generate your own, you may soon see how it is easy to fall victim to some of the most common web form blunders. In order to create a web form that is not distracting or difficult to use, try considering the following suggestions:

Avoid Large Drop-Downs

Sprawling drop downs are distracting and annoying, meaning it isn't necessary to list every possibility of a state, country, or other information included the world. The scroll bars of large drop down lists are inconvenient and most people would rather type in the information rather than waste time scanning a long list. It is not uncommon to lose interest or potential clients when filling out web forms because they are too tedious.

Offer Suggestions

A popular way to make life easier for a website user is to assist them in their decision-making regarding usernames, domain names, or passwords. Sometimes, people choose selections that are not available (taken by another user). Instead of alerting them to "please try again," try offering a few suggestions or alternatives for them to consider. For example, when "surfergirl" is taken, make recommendations, such as "beachgirl," "surferlover," "beachbum," or "surfergal" - anything to lend a helping hand.

Help Double Submitters

For some, it is a natural reaction to double-click on buttons, especially the ones marked "submit." Websites that allow this blunder in advance offer a much better reception than those who "punish" users for this mistake. Some sites use Javascript to gray out the submit button once it has been selected the first time, which avoids this common problem in the long run.

Scrap Confusing Formats

With the many different kinds of web forms, one of the most annoying formats deals with the birth date. The "dd/mm/yyyy" format is quite confusing for many and when it isn't entered correctly, the form spits back the information and requests changes. Too many confusing formats in a form will frustrate users.

Limit Display Warnings

The display warnings that appear on a page are quite annoying. These pop-up alert boxes may decorate a computer screen, telling a user they need to fix something in their form. The best way to deal with incorrect form responses is to place the warning within the page and not throw out a distracting pop-up. Sometimes, using the color red (as in a red border) is the best way to call attention to users. Dialog boxes that require an "OK" click wastes time.

International Respect

When creating a web form, know that you will reach a wide range of visitors, who live in many different places about the world. A web form that ignores the rest of the world will only limit the response and communication from worldwide visitors who do not fit into the scope of acceptable cities, states, or zip codes. This is why it is important to leave room for users to designate their country, postal code, or other identifying information.

Short Web Forms

To make a web form more attractive to the public, you should keep the questioning short and sweet. It is suggested to stick with the information required to complete the form, forgoing extra requirements that simply wastes the time of users. Some people ease in "optional" questions in hopes to gain details without using force.

In the end, following these suggestions will find you with less frustrated visitors, who won't mind filling out one of your forms in the future.

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