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Web Form Design: Filling in the Blanks [Paperback]

Luke Wroblewski
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 2 2008
Forms make or break the most crucial online interactions: checkout, registration, and any task requiring information entry. In Web Form Design, Luke Wroblewski draws on original research, his considerable experience at Yahoo! and eBay, and the perspectives of many of the field's leading designers to show you everything you need to know about designing effective and engaging web forms.

Testimonials

"Luke Wroblewski has done the entire world a great favor by writing this book. Online forms are ubiquitous and ubiquitously annoying but they don't have to be. Wroblewski shows Web designers how to present forms that gather necessary information without unnecessarily badgering and annoying visitors. <BR> Alan Cooper, Chairman, Cooper; author, The Inmates are Running the Asylum

"If I could only send a copy of Web Form Design Best Practices to the designer of every web form that's frustrated me, I'd go bankrupt from the shipping charges alone. Please. Stop the pain. Read this book now."<BR> Eric Meyer (meyerweb.com), author of CSS: The Definitive Guide

"Luke's book is by far the most practical, comprehensive, data-driven guide for solving form design challenges that plague every interface designer. It is an essential reference that will become a must-read for many years."<BR> Irene Au, Director of User Experience, Google

"Form design has historically been an afterthought, a partial chapter in past web design primers. Thankfully, we now have Luke's indispensable best practices in print. This book will now sit on my desk whenever I'm designing an application."<BR> Dan Cederholm, Principal, SimpleBits; author of Bulletproof Web Design

"Through really clear examples and succinct best practices, Luke brings joy to designing forms. I love this book and will be adding it to my list of "must haves."<BR> Bill Scott, Director UI Engineering, Netflix; former Yahoo! Ajax Evangelist


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5.0 out of 5 stars Right to the point! March 9 2013
By A Hudon
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
It may seem mundane to read about label positions or button styles, but the fact is - we all read and use these most primitive objects in our design and day to day life.

This book gets right to the point on how best to put together forms that are easily understandable and efficient.

I really enjoyed this book.
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Format:Paperback
A well-researched resource and a staple for all UX designers to have in their library. This book contains a breadth of real-world examples backed up by sound case-studies and research.
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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  44 reviews
58 of 64 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good for public sites, lacking coverage of web-based applications May 22 2008
By Michael Schuerig - Published on Amazon.com
The book is almost exclusively focussed on forms on public websites, such as eCommerce or social networking sites. As a result, the studies cited and undertaken by Wroblewski investigate how users interact with forms they are not accustomed to.

In other words, the goal of the book is to optimize forms for novices, not necessarily for proficient users. In itself, this goal is laudable, however, it ought to have been made explicit. As things stand, it is uncertain if all or which parts of the advice applies to forms whose users interact with them regularly and know them well.

By the standard of this book, complex forms are a mistake. And this may well be true for public facing sites. The situation is different for in-house applications that incidentally have a browser-based user interface. On these, unfortunately, the book remains silent.

I'd like to have seen a discussion of interactive controls beyond the native HTML text fields, drop downs, check and radio boxes. I'd like to have read how to make the best of fluid or elastic page layouts, as it is, all examples assume fixed-width layouts. A chapter on the construction of forms using semantic HTML and CSS wouldn't have been out of place either.

What's missing most of all is an extended case study that goes through all the stages of designing a realistically complex form.

After all this criticism, I'd like to point out that what is there in the book is very solid. As things stand, though, there remains much to be said.
34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is your air cover - now just call it in! June 12 2008
By William K. Evans IV - Published on Amazon.com
The scene is all too familiar. You're presenting wireframes of the registration process for a new web application when the discussion veers down a dark alley. The sky has turned the color of black ink, and you can smell sulfur in the air as one team member after another debates the alignment of form labels. Before you can toss up a quick Hail Mary, marketing says that the opt-in for marketing solicitations has to be defaulted to yes, and you can feel your soul sucked out of your body through your nose as a simple one hour meeting turns into a 3 hour discussion over the pro's and cons of inline validation while your stomach grumbles because you just missed. I have heard this war story many times from many interaction designers and information architects, with little variation except in the details. What we need is air cover in this battle to design better forms. Now, it's here.

"Forms Suck!"

And so Luke Wroblewski begins his new book on web form design with a canon shot across the bow, providing just the air cover and ammunition interaction designers need; and every review, including this one, is going to begin with a first impression of the book.

Mine was: Boffo.
(bof·fo (bf) Slang, adj.: Extremely successful; great.)

Wroblewski opens "Web Form Design" with an exploration, from a strategic perspective, of why users interact with forms. News flash: It's not because we like to. It may seem obvious, but the truth is, interaction designers need to confront the truth that a user's goal is to get to some successful outcome on the other side of a form - as quickly and painlessly as possible. We want our iPhone, tax return, or account with Facebook. We don't want to fill out forms.

"Forms suck. If you don't believe me, try to find people who like filling them in. You may turn up an accountant who gets a rush when wrapping up a client's tax return or perhaps a desk clerk who loves to tidy up office payroll. But for most of us, forms
are just an annoyance. What we want to do is to vote, apply for a job, buy a book online, join a group, or get a rebate back from a recent purchase. Forms just stand in our way."

Wroblewski has researched, with admirable thoroughness, everything from the basics of good form design, to labels and most-direct route, delivering his explanations, patterns and recommendations with a casual urgency that never veers into preachiness. This book is a useful guide for both the novice interaction designer and the battle tested UX guru, offering salient, field tested examples of the good, bad, and often times ugly forms that have proliferated the web like so many mushrooms after a good rain.

Wroblewski has also invited many seasoned professionals to contribute sidebars, like Caroline Jarrett's no-nonsense perspective on designing great forms by advising us to "start thinking about people and relationships," instead of just diving into labeling our forms and choosing where to put the Submit button. I especially appreciated her strategic guidelines for picking what questions should go into a form in the first place, which she aptly titles "Keep, Cut, Postpone, or Explain."

Wroblewski is aware of how challenging most readers will find good form design. It comes as a relief, for instance, when he writes that we should think less about forms as a means of filling a database, and more as a means of creating a meaningful conversation between the user and the company. He generally succeeds at adopting the warm tone of a confiding friend and colleague who can win you over with self-deprecating, you-too-can-make-dynamic-forms-every-day enthusiasm. The more subtle points of user-centered design or goal-driven design are not talked about explicitly; they are like a whisper on the wind that you can barely hear unless you train your ears.

What's In the Book?

"Web Form Design" is part of a wave of User Experience books sweeping over us from Rosenfeld Media; books focused on bringing practical, actionable and well researched methods to actual practitioners in the field. This literature is going to have a powerful effect on our community of practice, maybe as powerful as the effect the Polar Bear book had on our grandparents' era. This volume is broken out into three sections:

Section one, "Form Structure" begins with an overview of why form design matters and describes the principles behind good form design, followed by Form Organization, Path to Completion, and Labels (hint: your form design should start from goals). Working quickly through strategy to tactics. Wroblewski gives numerous examples - within the context of usability studies -so that you are not left wondering whether these patterns are recommended based just on his opinion.

Section two, "Form Elements," is a useful, clearly written exploration of each of the components of form design: labels, fields, actions and messages (help, errors, success). Wroblewski attacks each one of these by defining particular problem spaces, and then shows good and bad solutions to the problems while highlighting how these solutions faired in controlled usability tests, including eye-tracking. He then finishes each chapter off with a succinct list of `Best Practices' that I suggest are good enough to staple to the inside of your eyelids.

Section three, "Form Interaction," with chapters on everything from Inline Validation to Selection-dependent Inputs (a barn burner of a chapter). Here we have moved from the world of designing labels, alignment, and content to designing the actual complex interactions between the system -that wants to be fed like the plant in Little Shop of Horrors - and the world-weary user that just wants to get to the other side of the rainbow. As Wroblewski explains in his opening of chapter 9 "Inline Validation,"

"Despite our best efforts to format questions clearly and provide meaningful affordances for our inputs, some of our questions will always have more than one possible answer...

...Inline validation can provide several types of feedback: confirmation that an appropriate answer was given, suggestions for valid answers, and real-time updates designed to help people stay within necessary limits. These bits of feedback usually happen when people begin, continue, or stop entering answers within input fields. "

The chapter tells how to establish communication between the user and the form, providing clear, easy to read feedback so that the user doesn't get the "select a username or die" travesty that we see in registration forms all over the web. You know the ones: you type in your name, choose a username, enter your email address, and your password (twice), hit the submit button...and...bad things happen. The username is already taken. Worse, the form is cleared and you have to enter all that information all over again. Wroblewski provides advice for validation (without set-in-stone rules), and a bulleted list of best practices.

The final, and perhaps most interesting chapter in the book, covers the topic of Gradual Engagement. This is particularly timely given the kudzu-like proliferation of Web 2.0 applications and services as well as social networking sites and micro-blogging sites. Instead of starting your engagement with a new company that all your friends are raving about with YET ANOTHER registration form - Wroblewski highlights the benefits of moving a user through the application or service - actually engaging with it, and seeing it's benefits, while registration is either postponed, or handled behind the scenes. He explores web applications like JumpCut, where the user has gone all the way through creating, uploading and editing their video - and only when they actually want to publish and share it, does the user encounter a form - at which point they have already learned the service, it's benefits, and it's value. Wroblewski doesn't have any hard numbers about fall-off rates, but from a user experience perspective - my gut tells me it's better than confronting a first-time potential user with a form to fill out. I am looking forward to seeing how this approach plays out over the next year.

Summary

What is likely to win the most converts, though, is the joy Wroblewski takes in designing - which becomes clear as you page through the book. He isn't just an ardent evangelizer, following the rituals of going to conferences selling snake oil. He's been there in the trenches, just like you; he's done this a hundred, maybe a thousand times; he's tested these ideas - and he has a framework for you to use from day one.

If you want to trust my snap judgment, buy this book: you'll be delighted. If you want to trust my more reflective second judgment, after having read, re-read, and ruminated over the finer points he makes in the book, buy it: you'll be delighted but left wanting more. I don't know if more could have been written about Web Form Design, but if so, I would have gladly read that as well.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Great Place to Jump In July 20 2008
By Robert J. Neal - Published on Amazon.com
Wroblewski's book does a great job of presenting possible patterns and then weighing their pros and cons. However, some of the reasoning behind the decisions are subjective or based solely off anecdotal evidence. It's usually pretty easy to spot when Wroblewski uses this method of argument, and it doesn't necessarily mean his conclusion is wrong. Just be aware that sometimes you won't have a definitive, defensible position which you otherwise will get out of most parts of his book.

For example, an eye tracking study found that fewer mistakes were made when presenting mutually exclusive form groups as horizontal tabs. Wroblewski still recommended vertical tabs and used studies that were not cited as the basis for his recommendation. There are numerous places in the books where studies are referenced but not cited. This is very disappointing to me as I cannot reference the study for context and methodology.

I read this book cover-to-cover and I will continue to use it as a reference. It has clear and insightful observations accompanied by eye-tracking studies, some user testing, and a healthy dose of experience. It's a great companion when making recommendations to a client, superiors, designers, developers, or anyone else.

This book is great for people new to the field or people in juxtaposed fields such as developers, designers, and QA personnel.

I recommend this book.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just what we have been craving Aug. 2 2008
By Joseph Lencioni - Published on Amazon.com
There's a pretty good chance that you will fill out a form today... and tomorrow... and the next day.

Forms are everywhere you look-we rely on them for nearly everything from searching for information to ordering some goods to balancing your checkbook. As anybody who has encountered a poorly-designed form can attest, when forms are confusing or difficult to use they have the power to bring everything else down with them. A truly evil form can send your world spiraling out of control into a cycle of horror and dismay.

Obviously, good form design skills are critical-they could spell the difference between running your website like the RMS Queen Elizabeth II and running it like the Titanic. Until recently, there was no standard guide to help web designers through the treacherous swamps of form design. In May 2008, Luke Wroblewski let loose his Web Form Design: Filling in the Blanks, the book that might be just what we have been craving.

From cover to cover, Web Form Design is an easy read with ample pictures that clearly illustrate its concepts. Concrete examples are demonstrated that address many different aspects of form design. Additionally, this book isn't filled with pages upon pages of dry writing, each chapter is an ocean of knowledge that gets right down to business and thrusts the facts of research straight in front of your eyeballs. Throughout the book, Mr. Wroblewski presents the results of a solid foundation of usability testing so that your design decisions can be based on actual results instead of personal preference. Finally, each chapter ends with a summary overview of the main points-definitely a helpful feature that augments the learning process.

Most importantly, Wroblewski doesn't just stop at the layout of web forms, he touches on every aspect of web form design. He warns about unnecessary fields, gives pointers on constructing useful error and success messages, and provides ideas on dynamic form behavior and gradual engagement.

I highly recommend Luke Wroblewski's Web Form Design for anyone who is even thinking about designing a form for the web. Best of all, you can save a tree and have it right now by purchasing it in DRM-free PDF format straight from the publisher. What more could you ask for?
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The baedeker of form design July 16 2008
By Gócza Zoltán Károly - Published on Amazon.com
An insightful and well-written book on how to design web forms from a brilliant web professional. I would recommend it to novice and experienced interaction designers or anyone whose job includes creating web forms.

The book discusses the basic principles of making web-based forms. The main topics are:
- how to structure a form
- what types of fields to use and how to label them
- how to present action buttons, messages, help text

There are plenty of examples in the book and some good research findings.

The only downside is that if you are a regular reader of Luke's blog posts and presentations then you will already be familiar with the majority of the book's content.

[...]
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