I encountered a load of real world error states recently when trying to sort a new passport and it gave me another great perspective on how hard it is to make a web form work well.
Forms are hard for everyone. Those making them and those filling them out. Stressful even, when it’s a particularly important form that could cause a penalty cost, or loss of access / service / rights.
But on the human, real world side, my passport experience was an eye opener and actually an oddly great piece of user testing on myself.
I got loads of things wrong, that the form and supporting guidelines did actually make very clear. Next to me at the Post Office (on all three occasions that had to go back), there was another person having their own issues. They too, will have had all the necessary information, though encountered similar errors.
Errors in the real world are being told you missed a box or being sent home to get something you’ve forgotten. Worst of all is having the form returned to you after a few weeks, with a re-request for something you missed off.
A digital form doesn’t have these real life luxuries and expectations. Yes, it’s bloody annoying when those things happen in real life, but people understand at least. “Where is your deed pool certificate? You forgot it? Well you have to go and get it. NEXT”.
When errors happen on a web form, that doesn’t have the luxury of a human to instantly check and help, it’s the code that has to check. Every eventuality. It has to ensure that people get things right. Things that take them days to get right in the real world, with help from people, guides, and friends.
Writing is reminding me of the wonderful Google Analytics In Real Life – Online Checkout video. A great way to illustrate and remind devs, designers, users and clients, that everything we do is being used by humans, that will make mistakes and get annoyed. Let’s help people make mistakes and ease their annoyance.
PS. Frustrated with the whole process I felt quite vitriolic when I spotted a typo in the Passport application form!