1 July 2012
1 July 2012

Terrible form design: how many mistakes are possible in just two steps?

I recently came across 2 examples from the same online form that highlight a case whereby the person implementing the content doesn’t necessarily mean they are the people who should be designing it. I’m going to assume that’s what has happened in this case. It’s the most likely answer.

Designing the information on a form is basic questionnaire design in most cases but it’s something that rears its head time and time again and which people frequently get wrong. I thought I’d share these delights of design with you to highlight just how wrong it can be.

First up – the well travelled and often impossible to mess up ‘New User’ registration step…

Registration text fields

I’m not sure I even understand the text which accompanies the example above.

Now for the delight that was Step 2 in the process – the security question step that’s often used to help password recovery:


I especially like the security question example. When almost every other form I’ve come across in the world has a pre-set number of questions for the security question in a combo box (which can’t be edited), they leave the user to write their own. It requires extra validation, allows for incomplete or non-comprehensible text to be entered and it’s just… stupid. Given the small length of the text field itself – it was going to have to be a very short question. The addition of the helpful text “The answer must contain at least 1 character” really rounds it off with a laugh.

What was the question going to be? Is the user going to get philosophical when getting to this and write ‘what’s the meaning of life?’ as the security question with a blank gaping text field underneath it to demonstrate the philosophically expansive and endless possibilities of answers? Given the field was mandatory in the first place I think it’s safe to assume there would have to be at least 1 character in there.

So, before sending out a questionnaire or creating a form– please have it checked by someone with experience in creating this type of content. It’s often presumed that anyone can create a questionnaire but nothing could be further from the truth. In examples I’ve come across, or created myself, it can be easy to get it wrong. There’s the chance of broken logic, ambiguity of question text or its responses, misuse of scales or question controls to name just a few. Before sending out your next questionnaire, make sure to ‘usability test’ with the target audience as a dry run. Test and iterate until you are satisfied that the questionnaire is both asking the right questions and in the correct way. These will help identify problems in its content or format and lead to much more robust data.

I stopped going through the process, so the vendor has just lost out on potential business and left me with a negative opinion of the company in general.

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