Online forms are a masterpiece of design. There is no other website element that so perfectly compresses the need for complexity and simplicity. And no other element reveals the struggle between sales und design in such a tiny space.
As a marketer you need to develop an understanding of the difficulties and obstacles you carelessly put into your forms. And what could better make you understand, than to experience a real shitty form?
But almost all forms out there are okay, at least. Nobody would willingly publish a badly designed form on the internet—or would one? Yep! The people at Begaar did. They made an interface from hell. They are doing it all wrong, willingly. And it is awesome. Each and every step is a painful search for the right element to click or the enlightening instruction or hint to take you to a step further. Of course it is an ironical statement on interface design and of course it is overly exaggerated, but as a user you must admit that you stumbled upon many of these broad design mistakes on some occasions.
Maybe it’s time to try it for yourself and return here afterwards, to think about what just happened to you.
Fun? Yes and no.
So, how does that worst-of-all-forms feel? Annoyingly uncomfortable at first. It feels like you are doing something wrong. Then it starts to get funny and you laugh about how things can be messed up, how every design decision can be wrong. Maybe you even get ambitious to master that form, maybe your gaming senses are triggered. And you constantly feel the urge to just abandon that mess. The only reason you stay is that you don’t even care to get to an end. It’s a game after all.
But there are other forms out there that you do care about. And they make the same mistakes. Usually, when a user fills a form, they already feel stressed. The user has made a decision, which is stressful by itself, and the endpoint of that decision is a form, in most of the cases. Whether it is buying something, having a quote send to you, subscribing to a service or whatever—you always finish with filing a form. And there are so many things to do wrong. Chose the wrong plan, mistake your credentials, mistype your credit card information. The form should be the least of your problems. But it isn’t.
There is one good thing to say about bad forms: you are not alone. And that is the only reason, they still exist. No matter how carelessly you design a form, there will always be a competitor with an even worse design. But don’t you see the opportunity in that? Imagine a signup or sales process where you would feel reassured. Where you wouldn’t hesitate because you might make a mistake. Where you would be guided through the process, where you would only be asked for important information (and maybe some more afterwords, voluntarily), where you would review your settings before finally sending them, where you would know what to expect as a next step.
That’s all nothing new, I know. But going through the experience of a really bad form, might empathize you towards the emotions a user has with your forms. And empathy is so important when it comes to engineering a user experience.
Please, do all you can to prevent bad forms.
As an owner of a website and a decision maker for the forms of that site, we tend to underestimate the complexity of the task. We think that it is perfectly okay to force the user to fill in a correctly formatted phone number, or a very secure password, or some informations on themselves, or on their company, or on the reason why they come to us, or how they found us. But it is not!
As a marketer, you must be aware, that at that crucial point of a form, the final step to your beloved conversion, you must be extra-nice. You must not be hasty. Don’t think that, now that your users have expressed the will to fill your form, you can suck the last bit of information out of them. They aren’t customers yet.
I’ve had quite some projects, where the subscription form was the declared goal of the entire site. But the success was only measured up to the form’s page. The form itself was no part of the optimization process because it was entirely under the management of the sales department. They were to decide what fields the form should contain, wich fields are mandatory and through how many steps the user should be led. And as their goal was to slip into a comfortable and successful sales process after the form was submitted, they had many requirements.
The user had to go through an unpleasant shift in their customer journey. They were the center of attention up until they might become customers. And just on the edge of signing up, they transformed into a potential customer, who had to suffer paperwork and bureaucracy.
As a user myself, I can only appeal to anybody with a responsibility for web-forms, to be careful and generous with the money spent on ease of use. I did so oftenly abandon a form because of bad usability and style. If you want to gain new customers, a lot of them, don’t bother them, when they were just at the point of trusting you.