Key characteristics for forms that ease office workflow
In the office, forms fill our lives, and we spend our lives filling out forms. Forms organize our information. They convey the specific information needed to complete a specific task. They tell us who, what, where, when, and why. They tell us how and how much.
Well designed forms make all of this easier. And that translates into faster, cheaper, and more accurate workflow. Cumbersome forms are a burden. They slow down the workflow. They need to be ‘tackled’ rather than utilized. And they cost an organization time and money. A better strategy is to find or build better forms – after all, they are supposed to make things easier and more organized.
There are some key characteristics to good form design that help ease the office workflow. These things should be looked at when qualifying new forms for use in any office:
- Forms should be well labeled and easily recognizable from one to the next. There is nothing worse than filling out the L-987654-01 when you were supposed to fill out the L-987654-03. Filling out the ‘Invoice’ instead of the ‘Sales Order’ is a lot simpler.
- Forms need to be more functional than cute. Fancy color schemes and graphics look great on a computer screen or printed in color, but usually translate badly when faxed or photocopied. A form needs to do its job onscreen, attached to an email, printed in color, printed in black and white, faxed, re-faxed, photocopied, filled out with a pen – I think you get the idea.
- Forms need to contain all the data required to perform their task, including data that helps to track down errors that occur in the real world. They should not contain any information that is commonly not required and simply clutters up the form.
- Forms need a clear destination. In a large organization, a form should tell the user where it needs to go once it is filled out. Forms that are sent outside the company need to tell the user how and where to return them. Each copy of a form needs to specify where it should go, and if possible, should indicate where the other copies went.
- Forms need to clearly identify areas that the user should not fill out using ‘for office use only’ or ‘do not fill in this section’. Those off-limits areas should be clearly separated from the areas that need to be filled out by the user.
Establishing some basic criteria for your forms such as the key points above will help you choose and design forms that get the job done efficiently. It’s also important to occasionally get feedback from users so that improvements can be made.
Above all, remember that forms are meant to make the tasks of collecting, organizing, and distributing information easier. That is its first priority.