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Improving form structure

From: Applied Interaction Design

Video: Improving form structure

We've confirmed that all of our boquets are in our shopping basket, the mixed rose collection and our custom boquet. Let's go ahead and proceed to check out, I know that these are the items that I want to purchase. And so we move forward. Now, checkout is one of the most common form experiences that people have online. And so it's really easy for us to talk about form structure by looking at a checkout process, because we've already got expectations and mental models for how this should work. Let's briefly talk about good form field practices first.

Improving form structure

We've confirmed that all of our boquets are in our shopping basket, the mixed rose collection and our custom boquet. Let's go ahead and proceed to check out, I know that these are the items that I want to purchase. And so we move forward. Now, checkout is one of the most common form experiences that people have online. And so it's really easy for us to talk about form structure by looking at a checkout process, because we've already got expectations and mental models for how this should work. Let's briefly talk about good form field practices first.

There is a tremendous amount of information available to tell us how to create better forms on web applications and on websites. So this is going to be just a really quick overview. We did talk in more detail about form structure in the Interaction Design Fundamentals course, and there are many, many resources available online. As well as books that help you understand how to do this more effectively. But first we always want to make sure that we are using this correctly for the data collected. Remember we don't want to make people work too hard entering the information that is necessary to complete some task. We want to make sure that we are using descriptive labels and that they are near the associated form field.

People have to know what type of information is being requested. We want to make sure that we are placing the form fields in a logical and meaningful sequence. In other words, we're asking for information in the ordered people are accustomed to giving it. We don't typically ask for a last name before first name, State before City or the last four digits of your phone number before the area code. So just make sure that the sequence is correct. Also we can use structured inputs to help us reduce formatting errors. If complex data entry is necessary, then we can help people make sure that the format is accurate and the information is complete.

We also want to indicate what's required and what's optional. There is no need for people to enter information that is not really necessary for them to complete there task. And remember, never ask for more information than is absolutely necessary typing is effort. And so we don't need to ask for information that is not necessary for the task people are trying to complete. So what are some of the issues with the original Hansel and petal website? Check out. Well, first off, the labels are okay. They could be more clear.

We have to assume first name, last name, and 2 address lines That's okay. We're hoping that we're asking for zip code first because maybe we'll be smart and be able to use zip code as a look up and then pre-populate city and state. But you'll also notice that all of these form fields are exactly the same width. They look like they're going to take the same amount of information. A good general rule is create your form field at a size that indicates how much information may be entered into it. So address lines tend to be longer than name fields because we tend to have more characters in our addresses.

And zip code is only 5 digits. So we don't have to have a field that could hold 20 or 30 digits. So, we could actually provide some additional cues to people by changing the size of the fields. We also have shipping method over here. And you'll notice we're just showing grand total. Well, as a design pattern this is not very good. The grand total, $89.95, when people are checking out, they expect to see a list of the things that they have purchased. Not just a total of their costs.

And we've already encountered this problem once before on this site, we're using the wrong form filled type for the information. So FedEx two day service. Well one I don't know how much that's going to cost but it also appears that I could choose all four of these shipping methods. Now clearly I don't want to pay for all four. This makes people think a little bit harder, and work harder, to say oh, this is the one that I want, and uncheck the others that I don't want. And then, oh, unfortunately, we still have this problem of, if I have a coupon code, and I can get a discount, as soon as I give this field focus, I have to manually remove all of the text Input is in there. So, once again, we're really making people work for this information, and to complete this form field.

So let's see what we can do to actually improve this. If we jump over to the improved Hansel and Petal site. Once again, here's our shopping basket with our items. We've got the better information in summary, and we move forward to checkout. Okay, now you'll see there are several things going on here that are better. First, we have included some additional status and progress information. I now know exactly how many steps its going to take for me to get through the checkout process, and I know that I am on the first one.

We've improved the label names so that I do know that it's first name, last name, and address line. Now this might seem like a minor change, but we also need to be thinking about accessibility and whether or not there are disabled people using this website. And if they're using a screen reader, first, last, address, address, doesn't make as much sense. But first name, last name, address line one, and address line two, does. So, even minor changes in content can improve the usability.

We're using variable width fields here, so that we can say, zip code is a small amount of data. Address is a larger amount of data and first name is an average or medium amount of data. We've also got optional indicators. I don't have to have a second address line. I don't have to include a gift message. We've also moved our shipping methods to be in line with all of the other form fields. In other words, everything that I have to choose is grouped together, the Gestalt Principle of Proximity, so that I do all of my work in one space.

I've also included pricing, so that I know, exactly how much each one of these methods will cost, and, I can only choose, one. Finally we have a much improved summary over here. The items that I am buying, an itemized list of my pricing, and even the ability to put in a coupon or promo code without having to delete all of the information that was already there.

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Applied Interaction Design

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David Hogue
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