When I created my first web form in 1994, it seemed pretty straight forward. Create a PERL script to parse out the post stream to validated the input from my web page’s text and select fields then append the data to a text file.
Today, that just seems dumb. I hope nobody does that any more, because there are tools out there that make the is process easy. Before I get to my shameless plug for my product’s new form builder, I want to look at a few things that we insisted were essential in a form builder in 2008.
Sorting input fields – In 2008, in a web browser, there is only one acceptable way of doing this… Drag and drop. Anything that needs to be reordered, added to an option list, or removed from an option list, MUST USE DRAG AND DROP.
Input field types – We need many types of input beyond the normal text, mulit-line text, select box, check box, radio. We want to include date pickers, multi-file upload, and predefined combination controls such as survey options. All input fields must provide validation and clean end user feedback when a value is required or unacceptable.
Adding fields – This should be a simple process to pick several different types of fields at a time from a field palette, allowing the adjustment of field quantities. This can not be a laborious “pick one field at a time” effort.
Notifications on submit – End users will often expect some type of e-mail notification upon completion of the form. We found, even if you clearly describe on a confirmation screen that the form has been submitted and confirmed, users are still sometimes uncertain if they did the form submission correctly. An e-mail always settles this fear.
Admin notification on submit – This one is pretty obvious. It is not reasonable to go back and keep checking for new results in the data each day. An e-mail notifying the admin that a form has been submitted is a best practice.
Optional form update – Users may need to come back and update their answers at a later time, the form must accommodate this at the option of the administrator.
Instructions – Allow rich text instructions to prefix the form, and in line notes and instructions to clarify the field’s required input. Often it is hard to pick a label for a form field that is descriptive enough to clearly indicate what is needed. Prefix this field with a note, and the user will be more likely to input what you need from them.
And last on this list, is Exporting form results – This should be an easy process for getting the data into another system such as a database or spreadsheet. Our first instinct was to create a bunch of on line reporting tools and graphs for people to use, but I believe this is not a good strategy. Our customers just want to get the data into Excel or their own database/spreadsheet to they can use the data in a manner that they want. You can view the report as HTML and download as CSV and XML both readily importable into Excel or other spreadsheets/databases.
Here’s the shameless plug… If you want a really easy way to create a form and collect information from people on the web, check out this viewlet to see how the form editor works in a Something On hosted website. To create a Something On site for yourself (free with ads, or monthly pay for no-ads), get started here.