Unlocking Efficiency: A beginner’s guide to digital forms

Regardless of your industry, it is almost certain that interactions between people and the organization will, at some point, require using a form. Whether it’s the first contact requesting information, applying for service, making a purchase, requesting service, or performing daily tasks, any interaction that requires collecting information means filling out a form. So in this blog post, we will summarize the main questions to be addressed to ensure your electronic forms are done right from the start.

  • 1
    Why do you need a form, and what will it do?

    Before any design considerations can be made, you first need to understand the form’s purpose, the participants in its flow, and the underlying process the form needs to support.

    For example, you may only need a simple form to capture information that gets sent to a general inbox for someone to follow up on. In contrast, on the other extreme, you may need to collect an array of data and attachments, require digital signatures, and go through multiple steps or levels of approvals and escalations.

    Having a clear understanding of what the form is for and who is involved will enable you to make better decisions about what the form will need to look like and how to go about deploying it. Don’t forget to also have clarity about the timeline you have to deliver a working form, as this is also an important factor to consider in the next step.

  • 2
    How will you build and manage the form?

    Before thinking about what the form will look like, we recommend deciding on the technology that will support the form itself. There are basically three main ways to deal with electronic forms: You can code from scratch, you can use a lightweight plug-in or forms app, or you can use a more robust electronic forms solution. Each of these approaches has pros and cons and is more or less suitable for different forms requirements.

    If the form requirements are one-off, temporary, or part of a closed system, and you have the necessary technical expertise, then coding the form directly on a web page may be an acceptable approach. This has the advantage of ultimate control over your form since you are coding everything, but more often than not, the disadvantages of this approach far outweigh its benefits, leading most to choose one of the other two options below. However, if this approach suits you, you can move on to designing the form.

    In the case of simple forms that exclusively support websites, such as contact forms, service requests, etc., using a WordPress plug-in or lightweight forms app can be a fast and cost-effective way to go about deploying them. The key to determining if this is a good approach is to ensure that your form is simple and can be supported with a lightweight app. If so, this approach is acceptable; however, give due consideration here because if your use case falls into a more complex category, you will be better off going with a more robust forms solution.

    An irony we often see is that when a business user has a complex use case, they are often pushed towards coding from scratch, assuming that this will provide the most control over functionality. While this may be true, it’s also true that hard-coded forms take much longer to build and, once deployed, are much more difficult to change.

    Robust electronic forms platforms exist to support the widest possible range of use cases possible, from simple to very complex ones. These solutions are business-focused and offer the ability to design, deploy, and manage any form needed along with its associated data validation, workflows, and other features. These solutions also provide advanced functionality, such as the ability to collect attachments, process payments, interact with other organizational systems, collect digital signatures, and task and escalation management, all from a single platform that can be centrally managed and controlled. Forms deployed using these tools can also be easily modified later and republished without having to touch the code or website. Because of all the benefits, dedicated forms platforms are quickly becoming the de facto choice for most forms use cases in today’s organizations.

  • 3
    What design considerations are necessary for your form?

    Now that you know what the form is for, who will use it, and how you will build it, it’s time to consider how the form will look and move on to its design. Here, at a high level, we suggest you keep two principles in mind. Keep it short, and make it obvious. To expedite the form’s design, we recommend you start by looking at similar forms for inspiration – a simple Google search will often provide many examples from which you can start working. As you build your form, keep the number of fields to a minimum and group related fields into clearly labeled panels. Focus on usability from the user’s perspective, and use clear labels, in-form error messages and clear help-text to make the form’s purpose and how to use it completely obvious to the user. Depending on the form’s intended audience, you may also need to ensure its compatibility with screen readers and the ability to use only a keyboard to complete it to comply with ADA guidelines. Finally, make sure your form is responsive so it can be accessed from any device.

  • 4
    How will you manage the forms deployment?

    An often overlooked step in forms development is maintaining and keeping track of changes over time. This is another area where using a dedicated platform can be helpful; good forms solutions provide convenient access to the form for changes that need to be made, as well as keep a record of all previous versions in case you need to look at a prior version for reference or have to roll back due to an unforeseen issue.

dbs Software & Services (dbs) is a long-standing provider of document management and process automation solutions for education and business, and the exclusive provider of Tessi Docubase® in North America.

Tessi Docubase® is an enterprise-grade modular, secure, and easy-to-use document management system that seamlessly integrates with Business Information Systems. Its secure architecture and a broad range of features make it the perfect solution for a wide range of enterprises and use cases.

dbs LiveForms, is a low-code Business Process Automation platform. Its sole focus is simplifying complex processes by automating repetitive steps – from data capture to alerts, notifications, email confirmations, and everything in between quickly, without involving a programmer.

dbs eSign is a cloud-based electronic signature solution that allows users to manage the signing process for a document, from upload to signing and sealing, from any mobile device or computer.