Let’s be clear – forms will never be held up as one of the sexier design elements of a website, and no customer will recommend a site based on the brilliant forms you can fill out there. They are critical, however, to great user experience design and can also be an opportunity to begin a new conversation with a customer.

At a user experience design conference session held by Bruce Tognazzini of the Ask Tog blog, a role-play was conducted with one of the attendees where he pretended to be a customer service representative while behaving like a typical online form.

What this hilarious exercise exposed was telling: forms can be used as a stand-in for a conversation with customer service, and when they do they can be rude, demanding and, at times, personally invasive.

But forms don’t have to be this way. There are some simple user experience design methods that can be employed to make a sale or signup easy.

Make it simple

Remove any requests for data that you do not absolutely need to fulfil the customer’s action. For a membership signup just a first name, last name and email address are sufficient. Anything else is easily recognised by customers as extraneous data capturing. When there is less for a customer to fill in it’s also more likely that the form will actually be completed.

Make it smart

Make data collection flexible by allowing entry of information in different formats (such as the various date formats) without penalty. Give instant feedback if a field has been missed, and by disabling buttons disallow submission until all the necessary fields have been filled in.

If you need to collect more than the basics about a customer, then do it in a way that has value for the customer. One option might be to create an interesting activity that flows into lead generation. Another might be an incentivised survey or poll within a membership area that potentially rewards the user for completing it.

Make it safe

Speak long and loud about the privacy policy and protection of personal data. People are justifiably wary and want reassurances that their information is secure.

Make it speak

It is possible to provide engaging and useful feedback when something goes wrong. This can simply be polite guidance, or beyond that can offer help in a tone that’s relevant to the brand.

These are just some ways to turn a user’s form-filling experience into a positive interaction with a brand. Take the time to not just look at but complete any forms related to your business, and pay attention to your reactions. Have others you trust do the same and provide you with feedback, because user responses to your online forms will impact on your site’s conversion rates, return custom and, ultimately, profitability.

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