Designing better government forms by learning from the GDS.

Over the last few years, the GDS has been quietly improving the reputation of government web forms. What can be learnt from its approach?

Poor usability can create a range of problems and ultimately cost money. When incorrect information is passed through to government departments and local authorities, it increases administration and can even result in benefit overpayments. Via GOV.UK, the GDS has helped to create forms that tackle some of the most complex scenarios relating to public services.

These include the process of applying for permanent residency as an EEA or Swiss national, which has been under close scrutiny recently. If the online process had been designed badly, the outcome could’ve put administrators under serious pressure. But due to solid guidelines and thorough research, the web version is a real success.

Specific questions

When you issue a paper form, you have to cater for every possible set of circumstances. With the new online alternative, the applicant only answers the questions relevant to them.

Large typography

The whole site uses a clear black font which contrasts well with a white background to improve accessibility.

Adapts for small screens

Mobile users receive an adjusted layout to suit the size of their screens.

Unambiguous validation messages

Errors are displayed in three ways — with a red line next to the field, in red text above the field and in a box at the top of the form.

Obvious actions

Green buttons with self-explanatory text, such as “I accept the above”, make the action simple to understand.

 

Edit your answers

At any point you can display your previous answers and click to edit them.

Secondary instructions

Clear guidance is provided adjacent to each input. For example, above the password field it states “The password must be 8 characters or longer and include a letter and a number or symbol.”

 

 

 

 

Inline confirmation messages

When you’ve entered your email address, an inline message reminds you that “An email will be sent to [your email address].”

 

End of section summaries

The online form replaces an 85 page paper alternative, so there’s plenty to get through. To make it easier to digest, it’s broken up into six key steps — start, application, documents, declaration, pay and download/print. At the end of each step, you can review your answers and correct any errors.

Additional help text

Rather than cram lengthy additional help text alongside each field, the form hides detailed information behind a click. This removes any extra fuss and lets the applicant focus on the task at hand.

Autocomplete

The ‘country of birth’ dropdown helps you to find the place you’re looking for by narrowing down the options as you type.

The GDS has published a range of guidance on form design, which is useful for anyone involved in the process.