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Editor’s Note: Forms and Usability

This issue of UX explores forms, one of the most ubiquitous but under-noticed areas of usability among technology-oriented interactive communication. Where would we be if we could not log on to our computers or email systems, order products or services, search for data, and compare the results? In some cases, these displays of text, graphics, matrices, ruled lines, grayed or colored bars, rows, columns, cells, data entry widgets, and labels all work well. We may be unaware of how these complex and subtle organizers of knowledge are making workflow or playflow a breeze. On the other hand, when they don’t work well—when developers have not done a good job of finding out what people are doing, saying, needing, or wanting; when the developers have not iteratively designed and tested these complex typographic layouts—then the results are poor usability, lack of usefulness for our lives of decision-making, and growing confusion, frustration, alienation, fear, and anger when things seem impenetrable, even hostile. It needn’t be so.

As guest editors, former UX managing editor Gerry Gaffney, along with Caroline Jarrett, have harvested a bountiful set of authors who provide both theory and practice, and technical insight and professional wisdom when it comes to analyzing, designing, and building forms.

Gian Wild presents a case study on developing an accessible form. Jessica Enders writes about framing questions: good forms evolve from good questions about what data and functionality need to be present. Ben Green writes about the special challenges of designing for mobile environments. Ray Killam discusses forms management. Robert Barnett describes how an Australian government agency approached the challenge of improving its entire suite of forms. At the opposite end of the planet, Tor Nygaard writes about Norway’s progress in making government forms easier and more efficient. We also review two excellent books on analyzing and designing forms.

Much work in forms is now going on around the globe. Readers can explore within the borders of UPA, but also can find examples from other professional organizations such as ACM’s Special Interest Group on Human-Computer Interaction (SIGCHI), the Society for Technical Communication (STC), International Institute for Information Design (IIID), the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), and the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES). And of course, there is a professional organization that has forms at its heart: Business Forms Management Association (BFMA), whose president has contributed an article to this issue.

This UX issue may offer you a new professional area of evaluation and design. I hope you are inspired to look for books and publications in this field and explore the activities of UPA and our sister organizations.

We are all equal stakeholders in the world-wide effort to make the experience of working with forms more humane and pleasant.