All About Website Usability Blog – Holly Phillips

The power of having a “form protocol” for online forms
June 23, 2009, 4:23 am
Filed under: form design

Designing clean, intuitive forms with minimal abandonment rate is a true art.  Caroline Jarrett and Gerry Gaffney ‘s 2009 book “Forms that Work” is a good primer on the basics of this art.  They give good tips on form layout, question wording, appropriate answer format, form flow, and even font and color.  There are many good before-and-after examples, too, to show the power of doing things as (seemingly) simple as changing the field alignment or question order.

This is all great insight that any form designer can benefit from.  But one of the best tips in the book focuses not on the form itself, but on working with the person requesting the form:  always use a “form protocol” on which the requester must specify, for each and every field, who needs it and what they’ll do with it.  This forces him to justify every piece of information he asks for —  which ultimately (and hopefully) will result in a shorter, more direct form.  And a short, unintimidating form is much more likely to be completed than a long one that asks for all sorts of information unrelated to the form’s purpose.

Forcing a form protocol to be filled out for every new form also will help prevent people from adding fields just because we’ve always asked them.  Do you really need to ask what products they own if the form’s purpose is to give a free whitepaper?   Sure, marketing loves this kind of information — but is it worth risking a higher abandonment rate if it’s just a “gee wouldn’t it be nice to know” thing? 

Form Protocols:  my new best friend (for form design anyway…)

1 Comment so far
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Hi Holly

Glad you enjoyed the book.

I agree, form protocols are really useful – they’re a great way of getting your colleagues or clients to think through what is essential on a form.

Comment by Caroline Jarrett

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