“Web Form Design: Filling in the Blanks” – a review

WebForms book cover

Title: Web Form Design: Filling in the Blanks

Author: Luke Wroblewski

ISBN: 978-1-933820-24-8

Published by Rosenfeld Media, 2008

In the nineties, I used to do a lot of presentations at conferences of computer programmers. I used to enjoy doing “concept” presentations; not so much focusing on “how-to” as to “why” and “what” to do. When I set the audience’s expectations correctly that they were going to be exposed to new concepts, I got a good reception. When I failed to make that point clear, I would inevitably get comments in my speaker’s review of “Great idea, but where’s the code?”

If you’re looking for the code, look elsewhere. This is not the book for you. If you are looking for the concepts, the big ideas behind user interaction on the web, how to get information from the browser, how to successfully convert the most browsers into customers, why different alignments might make a difference in accuracy, speed and satisfaction in filling out forms, this is the book for you. Luke Wroblewski is an experienced professional in the field of HCI (“Human-Computer Interaction”) or UX (“User Experience”) with some impressive industry experience. This book shows a thoughtful approach to “how do I get people to fill out a form, quickly, pleasantly, correctly?”

So as not to get lost in the weeds of HTML vs. XHTML and CSS 1, 2, 2.1 and 3 varying levels of compliance, Luke talks forms purely from the user standpoint: we see excellent cropped screenshots of forms, focused on the individual elements under discussion. (Rosenfeld Media has done an excellent job of producing a beautiful book: heft, thick pages, rich colors and fine printing.) The book is divided into three sections: Form Structure, Form Elements, and Form Interaction. Each section assumes some base knowledge, thankfully, and doesn’t start out trying to explain why you’d use a checkbox vs. a radio button. And he’s frank that there rarely is One True Answer (at one point, calling out, “All together now: ‘It depends'”) but talks about empirical testing of speed, correctness, and the results of studies monitoring user’s eye movements, pauses and mouse movements to determine which layouts work and which confuse.

If you spend a lot of time designing forms, the 215 pages of this book are well worth a read, and don’t be surprised if you find yourself going back to the book for a refresher.

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