Join Luke Wroblewski for an in-depth discussion in this video Form structure, part of Web Form Design Best Practices.
As we have seen, form length is an important part of how we organize our web forms, but form structure also plays a role, particularly on mobile devices. So let's look at a couple of examples of form structure and some of the considerations we think about when designing. First is sequential. I recognize this example from the Boingo Get Online form I talked about earlier. A sequential form is a series of questions that have to be answered together in order to complete a task. You want to buy something, we need to collect information. You want to register we need to collect some information.
Basically anything that requires answers before getting to what someone's goal is. We think about designing sequential interactions, the idea is to guide people from start to finish as painlessly as possible. The other type of form that we might think about though is a non-linear form. A non-linear form is a form where there is series of questions, but not all have to be filled out at the same time. Think about editing a set of existing information, or adjusting some settings. Here the goal is more to pick out one or two things that you want to change rather than go through every single question one by one in order to get to a goal.
And when we design these, exposing every single question in a non-linear form especially on a smaller screen can be problematic, instead we want to do our best to conserve screen real estate and actually show the output of these forms, so that people can decide really quickly where they need to engage. Looking at the Edit Profile form on the right here you can see that I'm looking at the name, title, and web site of my profile. If I want to edit any one of these items we simply need to tap on it and I enter a small interactive form right then and there that allows me to make changes and save them.
Once I've save those changes, I can be done or I can move onto another piece of the form such as my title, and go through the same non-linear sequence within the form. Each input can be selected and modified without going through everything at once. So when we design non-linear forms especially on smaller screens, the idea is to get people to the information they want to modify, change, or remove quickly, and easily which means making things more scannable. We'll talk a bit more about this in the section on input labels, but for now just be aware that one of the possible form structures we may consider is non-linear.
Another form structure that comes in this play is the idea of an in-context form. So an in-context form is a way for people to really quickly contribute information, without jumping into a full form. In-context generally means where the activity or information is more relevant. So let's say you're looking at a thread of comments on Q&A site like Carrier here on the right and you want to chime in yourself, contribute a bit of information, leave a comment.
Sending this person off to a full page web form probably is a bit of overkill, instead they can simply tap the comment button and right there a little inline form pops up. Now personally, I prefer a way to get out of this form in case someone taps it by accident such as with the cancel or a little close action off-focus, but the idea of giving you that input right then in there drives immediacy and allows people to contribute in the small quick bursty ways that they tend to use their mobile devices.
Again in-context form applies to anywhere we're doing web form design, but in particular where somebody is looking at a device really quickly just wants to chime in real fast, this keeps him in the action rather than taking all off to a separate form. So looking at form structures in general there is a couple structures that we want to think about. What's right for a sequential form which is displaying all the labels and input fields in a row so someone can go through that as quickly as possible, is different than what we might want to do with the non-linear form where we actually want to show the input and allow people to really quickly find what they're looking for.
Which also differs from an in-context form where the primary goal is direct inline editing, in and out as fast as possible. When thinking about the types of forms you're putting on your pages, it's good to keep in the back of your mind what structure is right for the type of interaction I'm enabling.
- 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