A form of conversation

Reading Time: 2 minutes

So, we've been thinking about forms.

Well, specifically, I've been thinking about forms, with a view to improving them.

Here's what I've learned. Or, in some cases, remembered.

Forms are a conversation

Imagine you're womanning* an SDI stand at a conference or exhibition.

Let's say it's Mobile World Congress, just so I know something about what I'm talking about.

A man – it's tech – approaches the stand. You talk. It goes like this.

Hi there, how are you? Enjoying it so far?

Yeah, yeah it's cool … I was just looking at your stand. Scotland, yeah?

Yes, I'm from Scotland. Have you been?

Sure, yeah, uh, it was a few years ago, but great place. Really beautiful. Great people.

Glad you liked it. Any special memories?

Oh, wow … Edinburgh Castle was pretty spectacular. And I played a round of golf at St Andrews! That was really special.

So why are you here today?

 Well, you know, I work for this startup called Visify and we're growing real fast and we're just really kinda wondering what our options are right now …

That's great. What does Visify do?

Well, we do deep data mining visualisations, but optimize for mobile devices, you know what I mean?

Oh exactly. We've been working with a spinout from Edinburgh University that does something similar. Heard of Visualisnation?

No, no, I haven't.

Oh, you should google them, I really think you guys should talk. My name's Kerry, by the way, what's yours?

Here's how the same converation would typically unfold on the web

I was just looking at your website. Scotland, yeah?




Uh, Mr, I guess

First name

Look, I just want to …

First name

Uh, OK, it's Daniel but I


Look, I


My family name is Ng, but I'm Vietnamese in origin so we don't really …

Error: Surname must be at least 3 characters

OK, it's N … know what? Forget it. I went to Scotland once and loved it, hadn't thought about investing there. Now I have my answer. Forget it.

Some thoughts

We are human. We are dealing with humans. Be human.

Design forms to be a conversation. Start with the interesting stuff. How can we help you? What do you want to achieve?

Only ask for information that is absolutely essential.

Use html5 form input types email, tel and others to ease the conversation – especially on mobile

And above all, stop treating (potential) customers as data buckets to be hoovered up.

Begin a conversation. See where it goes. You're on your first date.

Some notes

*I know, some of you reading this will be men. Get over it.

Image used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license with thanks to https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9e/Conversation_(5556628632).jpg

I'm a service designer in Scottish Enterprise's unsurprisingly-named service design team. I've been a content designer, editor, UX designer and giant haystacks developer on the web for (gulp) over 25 years.

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