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Tips for Building a Better Form

Applications. Renewals. Competence audits and reviews. Regardless of their use, forms are an integral part of most regulatory authority workflows. You may have different registers and sections that members can move between, or different education streams for new applicants. This means many of your forms are likely client-facing, so in addition to capturing important information, you also need to consider usability and clarity. In fact, form configuration is one of the most important considerations for your College. That’s why College administrators and staff need to understand the finer points of this sometimes underestimated component of your association management software solution.

The Basics

You can’t get into the nitty gritty of form design without first understanding the basics, so let’s start at the start.

  • Collect basic information first, then focus on more specific details.
  • Group related information together in different sections, and make sure they’re all clearly labelled.
  • Save legal declarations for the end.

A basic principle of good form design is to ensure that there’s a natural progression to way the form captures information. The best way to accomplish this is to work from a broad-to-specific perspective. Collect basic information first such as personal details first, saving details relevant only to your organization until later. Privacy statements and legal declarations are almost always saved for last.

While your College bylaws likely describe the type of information you are required to gather, it still needs to be properly organized. Keep related information together to help avoid confusion. Groups of questions should be clearly marked with section headers, so members understand the context of information they’re being asked for.

Think Ahead with Your Design Choices

Don’t think of forms as something you can just make up on the fly; good forms require planning to avoid making dramatic changes later on. And remember, just because a change seems small doesn’t mean it is.

  • Keep screen size in mind. Just because a form is electronic doesn’t mean it can be any shape or size you want, especially if you want the form to be mobile and tablet friendly.
  • Even small changes can have a ripple effect on the form design.
  • Make a plan for what information needs to be reported on to avoid data modelling changes later.

Even with electronic forms, you need to recognize that there’s only so much room on the screen at any given time. This is particularly important when making design choices for forms that are likely to display on mobile screens (and if your software vendor isn’t offering mobile-friendly forms yet, then you may need to consider a new vendor). If you have a list of questions with each one displaying additional information as it’s answered, you could run into problems with smaller screens resizing elements to make it all fit.

Another good reason to think ahead is to limit the changes you need down the road. There’s no getting around it; forms are going to change throughout the design process. But it’s important to remember that some design changes require a complete overhaul of the form, even if the change itself seems small. Even something as simple as changing a field size can cause a ripple effect throughout the form design, forcing some elements into new positions which in turn force others to be relocated and so on.

These issues aren’t just cosmetic, though. Adding fields to capture new information, or changing the nature of how information is captured (such as switching from text entry to a dropdown menu so that data can be reported on internally) can cause labour-intensive changes to the underlying data model.

To Branch or not to Branch

Branching forms are a great way to keep the number of forms you need down, but make sure you’re using them properly.

  • Consider the context of the form. Is it a renewal form, application form, or something else? The answer may impact your decision.
  • How many sections differ between forms? If it’s more than one or two, you may want to consider separate forms.
  • Will branching forms actually make it easier for users to fill out and for you to capture the information?

Back in the days before widespread use of the internet, paper-and-pen was the only way forms could be filled out. That means that different forms had to be developed for every need. If applicants could choose from three different education streams, then either three different forms needed to be made, or forms would be long and confusing, with multiple optional sections.

Modern technology has changed all that, but there are still similar considerations, mainly whether or not each form needs to have multiple versions created, or if one form with branching logic features will suffice (branching forms change the questions they ask and information they reveal as answers are input). We at Alinity have found that different renewal and competence audit types often require separate forms, whereas application forms are best served by using branching logic features. However, every College is different and you may have unique needs. Just be sure you give each option due consideration to make sure you’re collecting the information you need as painlessly as possible for your members.

Work with Experts who have Experience

There are plenty of association management software solutions available, but most are focused on serving professional associations. They may not have a working understanding of the specialized form needs many regulators have. Being able to draw upon the experiences of a company that focuses on serving regulatory authorities is essential to creating useful, user-friendly forms quickly and efficiently. They can help inform your design decisions in advance and prevent costly design mistakes, and often understand best how to capture the information you need to effectively operate your self-regulated profession.

Online forms are an essential part of many regulatory workflows, but too often their complexity is sorely underestimated. Taking the time to put in essential planning and learning to understand the nuances of form development can go a long way to ensuring your College effectively collects all the information required in an online experience that’s smooth and simple for members as. If you’re looking to update your forms or work with an association management software vendor that can help, please contact us.