In most applications, the number of form pages is dwarfed by the volume of view pages. A lower number, however, should not be assumed to mean less complexity or importance. Creating forms with integrity and elegance is one of the most difficult and important challenges of the interface design process. Well-designed forms are a critical component of an intelligent, enjoyable, and satisfying user experience. By contrast, poorly designed forms inevitably lead to user frustration, confusion, and disappointment.
If resources are limited and time is in short supply, forms are perhaps the single most important area in which to focus your efforts. Here are a few of the key design principles to keep in mind:
Pick an appropriate pace. Do not overwhelm users with long forms that intimidate. Likewise, do not insult them with needlessly simple forms that fail to contain a task of satisfying dimension.
Limit navigation. In general, the navigational paths out o a form should be limited to explicit Submit and Cancel actions. Eliminating navigational elements from a form focuses users on the task at hand and prevents them from exiting the form without definitively saving their changes.
Provide multiple clues. A well-designed form takes advantage of as many different communication channels as possible. Clear labeling of fields, appropriate sizing of text boxes, examples of correct input, and obvious indications of required versus optional fields are all important clues to a form's use.
Make choices visible. Forms should not be an advanced version of hide and seek. Relevant choices should be clearly visible at all times. Users should not be required to explore an interface to accomplish basic tasks.
A theme running throughout this chapter has been the importance of error prevention. Although a perfect world would be free of all such user or application errors, the world of Web applications is far from that ideal. In the next chapter, you'll turn from the subject of form design to the subject of help, status, and alerts.