Join Michael Murphy for an in-depth discussion in this video Form-design best practices, part of Creating PDF Forms with InDesign.
When you're creating PDF forms with InDesign, there are a number of best practices that you'll want to adhere to, just as you would if you were simply designing a paper form. There are aesthetic concerns, functionality concerns and usability concerns that apply both in print and in a PDF. The goal of creating and sending out a form is, of course, to have that form completed and submitted, whether it's to take an order, get a new subscriber, add someone to a mailing list, or whatever your need for collecting information via the form may be.
So when you start a new form project, it's important to keep certain fundamental design and usability principles in mind in addition to the simple mechanics of creating check boxes, radio buttons, text fields and other form elements. First, keep your form organized and clean. This is a good guideline for all design projects. But for forms, which are very interactive and transactional, you don't want to do anything that distracts or makes things difficult for the person trying to fill out that form.
So be sure to divide your form into logical sections, grouping specific and related kinds of information together. You'll also want to give the user a clear path through the form. When you're designing a form on paper, you could do this with methods like numbering specific sections so the user knows where to go next. Or even just giving things logical headings and breaking the questions down into digestible chunks, and designing the page in such a way that the user's eye intuitively knows where to go. In a PDF form, you want to stick to these aesthetic principles as well, but you also want to make sure that the form has the appropriate tab order.
Meaning that every time the user hits the Tab key to move to another field in your form, that it moves them to the field they expect it to, rather than jumping randomly around to different parts of the form. We'll explore how to establish this tab order in a specific movie later in the course. Be sure also to give the user enough room to work. Even though someone looking at a PDF form can zoom in as much as they want, don't make things too small or too crowded in your form just because of that. You want people to have the same sense of comfort and breathing room they would expect if they were physically filling the form out on paper by hand.
This means making your text fields large enough for someone to be able to write in if they had to. Even though they're able to just type their information into the PDF, people still have a historic connection to the paper form. And as convenient as PDF forms are, those comfort levels are sort of hardwired into us from filling out forms by hand and they're still a good rule of thumb to stick to as you create electronic forms. Finally, test your form over and over. The worst thing you could do is release a PDF out into the world that doesn't work the way it should.
It's embarrassing for you and confusing for the user, so always take as much time as you need at the end of your project to step out of your role as the designer and into the shoes of the user. Go through the entire form as if you were filling it out yourself, testing out all the options to make sure they work. And don't just test it in Acrobat Pro, which is what most InDesign users would have access to. The overwhelming majority of people receiving your form will likely be viewing it in the free Adobe Reader, which has some significant differences from the Pro version.
We'll also discuss that later in the course. By sticking with fundamental design principles, keeping your user experience in mind at all times and thoroughly testing your form, you stack all the odds for your project's success firmly in your favor. With these guidelines in mind, let's move on to actually building forms in Adobe InDesign.
- Designing hybrid (print/PDF) forms
- Working with styles
- Creating text fields
- Adding check boxes and buttons
- Using button actions to present contextual options
- Exporting and distributing a PDF form