How to Make a Bad Web Form

Clarity in form design is passé. Try confusion and overload!

Imagine an unsuspecting user filling out a time-consuming application online. They accidentally hit the back button, lose all their work, and have to start all over. Or imagine a user who is trying to submit a form, but it responds vaguely with “You have made an error,” making them hunt for the error instead of telling them where it is. How about form fields that force the user to format phone numbers in a specific way, like adding parentheses, spaces, and dashes?

Yes, these are all terrible web form practices! When people encounter them, they feel antagonistic, like someone on the internet wants to cause them frustration and waste their time… Well, they’re right: I’m the Web Form Fiend, the villain behind it all. I’m the bad guy. It’s me. And I’m visiting LibTech Insights to share tips and tricks for making awful web forms on library websites. Here are my top pieces of advice for causing your users distress and despair.

Give the form an inscrutable title

The more nouns, the better! “Long-term laptop lending request form” is a jumble of words that will leave students wondering if they’re on the right page. They want action-oriented form titles that employ user-first language, like “Request a laptop to borrow,” but where’s the fun in something so easily understandable? Remember, your goal is to complicate and confuse!

🌟 The Web Form Fiend would hate it if you read “Why You Should Think of Stressed Users as Your Default Audience”

Ask users for more information than you need to know

Exhibit A: a college senior is just trying to schedule a research consultation for their thesis. They’re already stressed about deadlines and whether they’ll graduate. Now is a perfect time to throw more obstacles in their way. You’ll want to ask the usual questions about their name, email, and research area, but don’t forget to pack the form with useless questions. Do you prefer to be contacted by email or phone call? (It’s never phone call.) Which of the following most closely describes your research need? (Provide 15 options, and be sure to use library jargon for each.) And my favorite: How did you hear about our research consultation service? 

Sure, the latter two questions are ones you could ask this student during the consultation, rather than upfront, but you should give into the temptation to collect all this info on the form to make the resulting staff-facing spreadsheet as detailed as possible. Will you ever actually make a bar graph for how people heard about your service? Who can say. The important thing is that you’ll waste users’ time, or even better, dismay them so much they close the browser tab before filling out the form at all.

Make it time-consuming

Don’t forget to annoy instructors, too! When they’re scheduling an information literacy session for their course, they’ll want the process to be smooth and understandable. Do everything you can to avoid this. Make them submit a long, multi-page web form for each section of their classes, rather than allowing them to list multiple sections and preferred instruction dates on just one form. Keep it complicated! 

As a bonus, multiple form submissions probably mean an inundation of emails to your colleagues. It’s the start of the semester, so they’re not busy, right? Hah! Your overcomplicated web form can waste everybody’s time.

Blame the user for errors

This is my main tip for making your user’s head explode. Your form’s error messages should place the blame for any errors squarely on the user. “You did not provide a phone number.” “The end date you selected is after the start date.” “You must correct any errors before you can submit the form.” Yes, by using “you” in these error messages, instead of something more passive like “Phone number is required,” you’ll make the user feel extra bad. 

I hope these ideas have been helpful. By designing bad web forms that confuse users, take up too much of their time, and make them feel bad about themselves, you’ll get closer to the ultimate goal of eroding users’ trust in your organization!

Your friend,

The Web Form Fiend 😈

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