Forms design - I'm researching and need help

11 Mar 2014 - 5:08am
2 years ago
8 replies
6114 reads
frank dahle

Where are we on forms design today?

How far have we come on designing effective, intuitive, intelligent web forms? I'm researching forms design, both best practice and the more innovative ones. But I'm having a hard time finding really good examples.

HiOscar the insurance company is one example with some innovative qualities and certainly worth a study. But I'm searching for more advanced forms with higher complexity.

Do you know of examples or research/articles on the subject? I appreciate any help on the subject.


11 Mar 2014 - 6:07am

A great place to start, if you haven't gotten this already, is with Luke Wroblewski - he has a great book on the subject and here is a link to a PDF:

There is a link to the book on page 3 with a discount code to get 15% off! 

11 Mar 2014 - 8:31am
frank dahle

Thanks for your reply Jon.

Luke's work is of course still highly valuable and relevant on the basics of forms design. But his book is from 2008 and the book is still about the traditional form. The book offers lots of incremental improvements to a form - but it's still the same form.

So, my question is - what have we learned since then? Who's working on next generation digital, interactive forms? There must be people out there who has put some experimental, innovative effort into recreating forms.

Anyway, your reply did remind me on checking out Luke's website to look for anything new on forms design from his part. And I actually found this article from 2010. It shows kind of the same as Hioscar is doing only closer to the standard form.


11 Mar 2014 - 3:00pm

My pleasure Frank, sorry it wasn't a better reply! :) 

Not sure I've seen any good research related to what you're asking for, great question though! Please let us know what you find!

11 Mar 2014 - 4:11pm

I agree with you, Frank, Luke's book is still relevant but the examples are now dated and form design has moved on. I have a bunch of notes I have written on best practice that I use to discuss with clients. I will be happy to share if you wish to see them.

I have to mention UK Government Digital Services (GDS) smart answers.

I believe the layout, ethos and content centred and usable style of this design pattern is the height of where we are at today. In short, answering questions in a conversational manner, one question at a time, with plain English contextual help, is a winner.

Take a look too at Compare The Market forms. For me, they are applying GDS smart answer design principles, but in a fresh commercial environment.

All the best,


11 Mar 2014 - 8:02pm
frank dahle

Thanks Kevin

I've been following the GDS blog and the project for about a year now, as part of my research. I've lost count of how many maternity leaves I've applied for during presentations  and workhops:) But I've never seen CTM before, which is an interesting case study. They certainly have put some effort in modernizing forms as a concept.

I agree with your description of a winner concept. I also approve GDS' strategy on hiding complexity and building tools before writing content. My challenge is to design a tool which can hide much higher levels of complexity. I'm talking about replacing 10-15 pages long pdf forms to apply for various public services filled with juridical references and bureaucratic terms. Take also into consideration that alot of these public services are for poor people, people in trouble, people in need of help etc. Some of them don't even want help while others hate everything about the public sector. We're not necessarily talking about highly motivated people with new cars...

What's good about Norwegian public services is that we've already done some important work on integrating public registers and services. This means that some forms will automatically retrieve parts of the information needed from various registers, when you log in and identify yourself. As Sarah Richards said when she was in Oslo last year presenting the project: "Norwegian public services are ten years ahead of us. You should be teaching us..".

But still we haven't broken the code regarding high complexity forms. Still looking for clues..

11 Mar 2014 - 8:28pm
yong hwa

Hi frank,

The good thing about interactivity is many forms don't have to take the look of forms. Forms are outputs of conversations a business have with customers. Many have taken the shape of interactive visuals,
Interactive behavior such as showing it only when it's relevant or simple button tagging to FB account to shorter the time taken and leaving only key basic information such as name, identity numbers, contact numbers; etc. 
The more challenging part of design work is print, static form. The good design principles stand. I am with a internal experience design team in a bank and took up redesigning customers' conversations.  We are changing the way banks talk to customers and that includes digital
And static forms. And having worked on both interactive and print form, the challenge in print is tougher. Something that you might want to look into beside just digital form.

Hope I have help.
If you are keen to know more, let me know I send in a few links or books that touches on good form design principles which we have research and used as references.

12 Mar 2014 - 5:01am
Leisa Reichelt

If you are interested in seeing (and contributing) to what GDS is thinking with regards to forms, we have a design pattern wiki where we are starting to gather interaction patterns and the research we've done behind them which we are beginning to form into shareable patterns. 

A lot of what we do here at GDS is make forms that are easy for everyone to complete - we're especially concerned with people who have relatively low digital literacy, and we spend lot of time iterating, testing and then iterating again to try to make them work as well as they can for the largest possible audience on the widest range of device. We're making a good start but still have a long way to go.

I am interested to hear you say that 'form design has moved on' because I think my observation is quite the opposite - that in fact the thing that makes most forms difficult for people to complete comes down to basic usability issues that have been research and documented for decades (it must be decades now, right?) and that most designers completely overlook.

Basic things like asking the right questions the right way (for the user not the business) and eliminating all the other questions. It sounds obvious but actually takes a lot of effort and iteration to achieve. 

Other things that many people take for granted because no one they know has trouble with it - like, say using drop down list for date of birth. We've seen many people who have completed everything else in a form with no trouble at all completely fail at using drop down list - so for date of birth we're now replacing dropdowns with basic text boxes and the problem goes away (we need to do the hard work to make things easy - one of our design principles).

Again, this is not innovative, people have been writing about problems with dropdowns since at least the beginning of this century.

So, for us at GDS, the greatest 'innovation' comes from actually applying the things that we learn from usability work into our form design. Things like the 'smart answers' that have been mentioned above might appear to be more 'innovative' but are mostly being phased out of use, especially for more complex forms, because they introduce unnecessary usability issues.

On the one hand this might sound very boring, but actually I think it's really exciting to actually have the opportunity to get some of this right, finally, and to apply it to transactions that are very important to people. And we don't rule out taking an innovative design approach to solving these problems, but more often than not, the solutions are surprisingly simple.

If you're interested in being involved, you'd be more than welcome. We're doing all of this in the open so you're welcome to come and take a look at the wiki on the Hackpad, and chip in and share what you know/what you've seen in usability testing for all the different form elements. 

12 Mar 2014 - 10:53am

Fantastic response, Leisa. And thank you for sharing the link to the wiki on Hackpad; I was not aware of this until now.

When mentioning that I felt ‘form design has moved on’, it was because I am seeing the popularity and influence of GDS in challenging designers to get the basic things right, such as asking the right questions the right way. Absolutely, the basics have, and still are being overlooked by many designers. Yet, I am beginning to witness a shift towards an increase in usability testing and getting the basics done right. So instead, I change my statement to ‘designers have moved on’, or grown more savvy.

Personally, I am a fan of the ‘smart answers’, and they have tested well in my studies. Even for complex transactions, such as challenging a parking Penalty Charge Notice (PCN), this design pattern has been effective. Both the observed and perceived usability problems, using the System Usability Scale (SUS), have measured favourably.

I will certainly be keeping a close eye on the Hackpad wiki and inputting what I have seen in usability studies.

All the best,


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