Getting old and tired (MUSIC)

Our original solution was Quickyform, a Flash-based contact form that ran on an iMac in the exhibition space. (You can still try it out today to get a feel of our first shot at re-imagining online forms.) It embodied the essence of the WarGames form even as a rough early prototype. Only one question was shown in focus at a time, and once a visitor filled it out and pressed “Enter,” the next question came into focus, ready for them to enter the next answer without having to click anywhere. This, we knew, was the first step in the right direction for the future of forms.

When we built Quickyform, Flash was still prevalent online, and there was lingering hope that Apple and others would adopt it for their mobile platforms. Flash has its uses, but it had quickly become obvious that it wasn’t the best tool for our needs. We quickly shifted to the modern languages of HTML, CSS and JavaScript, and got to work designing a better UI that would work everywhere — ultimately, realizing our dream and even recreating the part of WarGames that had initially inspired us.

Our basic idea was to find the perfect way to display one question at a time, to reflect natural human conversation. To do that, we had to entirely declutter the UI, removing everything that might take the user’s attention away from the one question at hand. At the same time, we still wanted to retain a global view of the entire form to make it easy to navigate and see the remaining questions.

The solution wasn’t apparent at first. For example, an early version opened and closed each question as you went through them. That took care of showing only one question at a time, but the animations were too jarring and made it difficult to navigate the entire form. We took many such detours into the land of strange animations and interactions that just don’t feel natural in our quest to discover what would work best. The final simple solution of putting the active question in the center of the screen while showing the preceding and following questions faded out above and below seems obvious in retrospect but took a lot of experimenting to perfect.

Putting the active question in the center helped out other parts of our UI. It helped our large typography to make sense, which in turn freed us to make use of Web fonts. We use 24-pixel fonts on the desktop, and between 16- and 20-pixel fonts on mobile, depending on the device. Very few Web fonts work well at sizes below 16 pixels, so focusing on one question at a time enabled us to drastically improve the UI’s design.

In turn, the UI influences the UX. Large typography in our form designer forces you to shorten questions because there is less space per line. You have to make every word count in the questions you put in your form, and that precision makes the resulting questions far more likely to be answered by respondents.

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