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Re: Forms usability

From: Mark Barratt <markb@textmatters.com>
Date: Sun, 17 Nov 2002 15:13:15 +0000
Message-ID: <3DD7B20B.6040002@textmatters.com>
To: AndrewWatt2001@aol.com
Cc: www-forms@w3.org, xforms@yahoogroups.com

AndrewWatt2001@aol.com wrote:
> I was wondering if any of the list members are aware of any useful / quality 
> analyses of the usability of online and offline forms.
> I am asking the question in the context of some issues I am thinking through 
> about XForms but my question is looking for information from other contexts.
> I am not particularly looking for glossy reports on usability or complete 
> books (although I would be interested in any pointers to those if they 
> exist). I would also be interested in anecdotes of doing things right or 
> those "Ah ha" moments when you realise why customers are moaning about a 
> particular form being a pain.


There are a few resources available on the web. Most of the guidance is 
a kind of 'higher common sense' and is focused on either HCI as a 
general discipline or on the creation of paper forms.

The BFMA (http://www.bfma.org) site has some material from its 
conferences that is useful, though most of it requires membership 
($149). There is also a mailing list (formspace@bfma.org) which is open 
to non-members and has archives, I believe.

Forms that Work is a collaboration between the UK's Caroline Jarrett and 
Australia's Gerry Gaffney that has useful materials and links - 

Some of the best how-to and general guidance, mostly relating to paper 
forms, is in the archives of the Forms Information Centre here in 
Reading, UK. It consists of research reports, a bibliography and a 
series of summaries of research findings and guidance in this area. 
Unfortunately it's all on paper apart from the bibliography (which is 
not available online) and I the archivist funding disappeared a few 
years ago. We have joined in an effort to get some funding to revive and 
update this resource, but nothing's imminent.

In a rational world, the US Federal Government would fund a center for 
usability in forms, but I don't know of anything there.

In general, developing usable forms on-line or on paper is like 
developing usable anything, so HCI and information design resources are 
relevant (start at http://www.stcsig.org/id/resources.html for the 
information design side).

We've been designing usable forms for a dozen years, originally on paper 
and increasingly now online. We know that usable forms are
. visually quiet
. polite
. unambiguous
. transparent (that is, open and honest, with the consequences of the 
form-filler's actions spelled out clearly)
. helpful without being intrusive
. easy to read and understand
. navigable

Apart from skills in writing, visual design and analysis, getting good 
forms actually means understanding and sometimes modifying the business 
processes which underpin them.

One nice thing about all forms is that their effectiveness in use is 
quite easy to measure (though it's seldom actually done). In particular, 
forms improvement can be quantified through measurements within the 
business process which they serve,

Sorry if this is a bit lengthy - I can get carried away on this subject 
quite easily...

hope this helps

Mark Barratt
Text Matters
phone +44 (0)118 986 8313
fax +44 (0)118 931 3743
email markb@textmatters.com
web http://www.textmatters.com
Received on Sunday, 17 November 2002 10:46:43 UTC

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