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Your users hate your e-forms

In a previous post, I shared my thoughts on the effects of three significant trends–cloud, mobile, and BYOD–on user demand. But the relentless march of user expectation doesn’t end there.

The hard truth is that today even the most technically unsophisticated business user has grown accustomed to rich, dynamic, graphical user interfaces. A typical Facebook session invokes any number of slick UI features that weren’t even possible just a few years ago. Never mind that web companies spend millions designing and market testing their user experience paradigms: your users are disappointed afresh each time they bring up one of your BPM-driven e-forms and it doesn’t look anything like iTunes.

While you probably don’t have the budget to make filling out an expense report feel like ordering a movie on Netflix, there are a few things you can do to keep the crowd from getting restless. An e-form should do more than just save trees: it should help the user complete their task efficiently, minimizing both time and uncertainty. For example, if certain information is needed only under a particular condition, don’t prompt for that information unless that condition is met: the words “If yes, then…” should never appear on an e-form. Even small acts of kindness can go a long way with users: I’m reliably gratified when a form that requires an address prompts for the zip code and then fills in the city automatically.

Too many forms, however, trip over my pet peeve: presenting users with choices they don’t understand. There’s nothing worse than encountering a question like, “Is this expense fully or partially compliant with European Union General Standard Number 321-2452, subsection (ii)?” One of the great things about BPM is that a form can be routed from one person with some of the required information to another with additional information. Take advantage of that capability to require each user to provide only the data with which they are most familiar.

I’m regularly surprised by the number of e-forms I encounter that appear to have been created without the least bit concern for how they will be used. Your BPM vendor has (I hope) provided you with the tools to build e-forms that, while they may not resemble, can nonetheless guide your users through their tasks with a minimum of keystrokes and mouse clicks. If an app is worth building, it only makes sense to spend the time needed to design it in such a way that it doesn’t frustrate and annoy the people who have to use it.

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