Recently, I spent a few days at DOCUMENT Strategy Forum in Greenwich, CT. Co-located with the BFMA (Business Forms Management Association) it was an interesting event with a lot of content focusing on forms design and usability.
At an event like this, one would think that business forms are the center of the universe. And while that is obviously a stretch, a form is often a lynchpin between business processes. At its very core, a paper form is essentially an intermediary between two entities or processes where an electronic alternative is not available or not practical. Often this might be a customer communication.
The process involved in managing a form is often overlooked by users and vendors alike. John Sharp of the Vancouver City Savings Credit Union did a fine job of reminding us just how extensive a forms reach is by showing its impact on an organization in terms of a mind-map.
This less-linear approach than PowerPoint was very revealing in the impact that a form has. A form permeates an organization in many ways. As such, inefficiencies in design, workflow, etc, can cause a large, undesirable ripple effect resulting in high costs. In the case of healthcare, the unintended consequences can have a very human impact.
Whats the moral of the story? Effective form design has multiple audiences. We often get caught up in the most effective way to process the form, which might not be the most effective way to get the desired usability from the form itself. When designing a form, we need to step back and ask:
- Who will be completing the form, what information is mandatory and what is not (and if it is not, why is it there)?
- Does the form make sense to the person who is actually supposed to fill it out?
- How and where does the completed form get routed for processing? Is the form designed friendly for capturing?
- How much of the processing can be automated?
- Do the form fields have map-able database fields in your business systems? Are the field types equivalent?
- Once the data is in the system, what happens to the paper document? Does it need to be retained?
I could dream up a dozen more questions but you probably get the point. If we fail to assess the larger impact of a form, then we are likely creating an inefficient process, missing the whole point entirely.
Would you like to learn more about form design as it relates to optimizating for capture? Heres our article: “7 Reasons Your Document may not be Suited for Unstructured OCR / ICR”