Web Form Design Best Practices
Illustration by Petra Stefankova

Web Form Design Best Practices

with Luke Wroblewski

Video: Why forms matter

Let's start off with talking about why web forms matter. To do so, I want to start with a little bit of a story. I fly a lot, and when I'm in an airplane, I'm actually very proud of the fact that I can get my Inbox down to 0. In order to send off all the emails that I wrote up on the plane, when I land at the gate, I need to get online. So I sit down, pull open my laptop and what greets me? You guessed it; a web form. In this case, the Boingo AsYouGo sign up to get online form. In order to get online, I have to fill in my first name, last name, email, some credit card information, and accounts and then hit Submit.

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Watch the Online Video Course Web Form Design Best Practices
3h 46m Appropriate for all Oct 14, 2011

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In this course, interaction designer Luke Wroblewski shows how to create web forms that encourage visitors to enter information and covers ways to capture input without the use of forms. The course covers boosting conversion rates and customer satisfaction, organizing the structure of forms, aligning and grouping form elements, assigning the correct input field types, validating input, and handling data entry errors. The last chapter highlights alternatives to static forms, such as using dynamic inline forms, using web services, and leveraging device capabilities, which can be used to gather additional information or replace a traditional form altogether.

Topics include:
  • Understanding why forms matter
  • Deciding on the form length and structure
  • Adding tabs to a form
  • Creating required fields
  • Adding input masks
  • Creating selection-dependent inputs and actions
  • Displaying success and error messages
  • Adding inline validation
  • Understanding gradual engagement
  • Enabling touch and audio input on devices
Subject:
Web
Author:
Luke Wroblewski

Why forms matter

Let's start off with talking about why web forms matter. To do so, I want to start with a little bit of a story. I fly a lot, and when I'm in an airplane, I'm actually very proud of the fact that I can get my Inbox down to 0. In order to send off all the emails that I wrote up on the plane, when I land at the gate, I need to get online. So I sit down, pull open my laptop and what greets me? You guessed it; a web form. In this case, the Boingo AsYouGo sign up to get online form. In order to get online, I have to fill in my first name, last name, email, some credit card information, and accounts and then hit Submit.

Doesn't seem too bad, so let's get started. For my user account, I'll pick lukew, this is what I usually use. Hit Submit and notice any problems? Might be a little difficult to see, but there is an error on the screen that tells me this user name is already in use. That error is actually the same color and size as the title of the form so it doesn't really pop as much as it could. Needless to say I still want to get online, so I'm going to try again. I need to pick a new username and refill in a number of fields that have been conveniently removed for me for security, like my credit card information, password, confirm password, password recovery code.

So let's try again with lukewer. Same problem, same fields erased. After trying this two or three more times, my flight starts to leave, I don't get online, and we're still for Boingo. They don't get the money I was willing to pay them to jump onto the Internet. What does this tell us? Well, it's a simple lesson and it's one that forms suck. Forms suck, because they stand in the way of what we actually want. This was a lesson I learned the hard way at eBay, where the process of selling something online at eBay just required a couple of input fields.

Well truthfully, they required a lot of input fields, and some people would make the case that this was actually quite painful. Yet at the same time, eBay was the 30th largest economy in the world. There are 700,000 people in the U.S. making their full-time living selling on eBay, and around $8,000 worth of goods are processed on eBay per second. So while this web form looked a bit painful, it was extremely powerful and just about anywhere we look online where something interesting is happening, there is a web form involved. In commerce, like on eBay, somebody wants to purchase something, a company wants to sell something, what's standing in-between them? You guessed it, a web form.

In social and community based sites, somebody wants to join a site or register or converse with someone else on the site, what's in the way? Yup, a web form. Productivity, managing your information, utilizing increasing amounts of self-service applications on the web, what's there? Yup, a web form. Anywhere there is something happening that's a value like money, community, information, or self-service solutions, a web form tends to be involved. Therefore, the design of web forms really matters. But can it have an impact? Looking at YouTube, the popular video sharing site on the web, we can see how much attention they pay to form design details.

Here is a redesign from 2007 followed up by another one, leading it to some of the work they did in 2008. And you can see as we go through the years looking at the single video upload form, drastic changes have been made, small adjustments have been made, and a lot of testing has been done to get this form as optimal as possible. So what was the impact of all these design iterations? In 2006, YouTube had about 65,000 videos uploaded per day. In 2007 that number grew, in 2008, the same story.

In 2009 all way up to 2011 what we're seeing over a million videos being uploaded per day on YouTube. Now while their audience crew during this time all that the attention to detail that they pay to their web forms also paid off very big. And you see that's across the board in form redesigns. It's not uncommon for a form redesign to see double-digit increases in conversion in commerce, registration, and a number of common use cases on the Internet. Paying attention to the details really does matter and can have an impact, but form design doesn't just matter on the desktop; it increasingly matters on the large number of mobile devices that sit in our pockets all day.

From commerce like Amazon doing over a billion dollars via mobile devices and Best Buy doubling their mobile Web users each year, to Social where Facebook sees 30% of their new posts happening on mobile devices and Twitter sees 16% of their new users signing up through mobile even down the things like e-mail. 70% of smartphone users are now accessing e-mail on their mobile devices. That's a lot of activity where input matters. From commerce, to social to productivity, people are increasingly using their mobile devices to get things done and get things done using forms.

As we've seen, web forms sit at the intersection of business, community, self-service, information management, and more. Paying attention to the details of form design can have a very big impact. So let's examine those details thoroughly starting with form organization.

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