If I were to list the amount of time I’ve spent on various activities this past week, form filling would occupy the top slot. It feels as if I’ve spent the whole week wrestling with them: to get a doctor’s appointment, to open a bank account, to set in motion selling a house, to view some places to buy, to close some subscription accounts, to send some packages, to order some products.
None of them are easy to complete, and all require a fund of patience as, all too frequently. the ‘submit’ button persistently refuses to operate and it is impossible to see what essential piece of info is missing and has to be inserted before it relents, and submits.
In several cases once I have successfully submitted a form, I get another form asking me to give feedback on how I found filling in the form.
The process of getting to submission is an exercise in patience and persistence. Forms come from various directions. Sometimes attached to an email – the person doing the conveyancing of my sale, sent three forms as attachments. Sometimes they come not directly attached to an email but as a link in the email that you have to click on to access the form. How do I know if it is a scam or not, if I am not expecting it as happened this week.
On that one, I got an email from a named person, who I did not know, with an email address of email@example.com. The email asked me to click on a link in it to access a ‘Single Funded Donor Form’. I guessed it could be from the bank where I am trying to open an account. But it felt suspicious. Nowhere in the bank account application process had it been mentioned that I would receive the email or that I needed to fill in that form. It would have been helpful to have a ‘list of forms you will be required to fill in’ at the start of the account application process. But there wasn’t.
I checked the online ‘progress of your application’ page and there was no mention of that form or that it was required. I tried, over many minutes and an endless telephone tree, to ask a real person if the bank had sent the form via adobesign, only to finally get to the end of the maze to hear the message ‘we are only answering by e-chat’.
I went off to do two minutes of STOP mindfulness, before returning to the task of trying to find out if pressing the button to access the supposed form would result in my computer being hacked and my identity stolen.
Finally, via e-chat, I managed to get the info that the person who’d sent the email was my ‘case manager’ – I had heard no mention of a case manager in the process, and sending an email from and unknown ‘case manager’ was to ‘personalise’ the application process. I have kept a transcript of the four pages of e-chat. It may come in handy if I am asked to give feedback on the application process.
Beyond forms coming attached to an email, or via adobesign, they are often retrieved directly from a website. The retrieval process may or may not require you to have an account with the organisation that holds the form you need to complete. If it requires you to have an account, then the first step is to access the account.
Accessing the sites is a challenge. This week, I’ve encountered access that is granted via a text message with a validation number I have to enter (requires my phone to be beside me and not downstairs or lost in the house somewhere), me stating how many squares have traffic lights (US traffic lights which are different from UK. Do the ones shown at waist height on the pole count or just the ones on the gantry spanning the road, or just the ones at the top of the pole?), a captcha tick box assuring someone (or a bot) that I am not a robot, typing in the letters shown in grayscale into a box. Once I have accessed the website, there is the second hurdle: locating the form.
Related to this one is the website that requires you to create an account, if you don’t have one, in order to access the form. This can mean creating (via forms) passwords, giving answers to ‘memorable questions’, ticking boxes on whether you want two-factor authentication, stating which method you want to be contacted by, accepting or rejecting marketing bumph from the organisation, etc. It would be handy if the answers to the memorable questions, were themselves memorable. I don’t remember whether my favourite food is bagels or broccoli or jelly snakes – it depends on the moment of answering.
Assuming I manage the organisation access, the third hurdle is grappling with the form itself. Designing a form is no easy task. Although there’s a lot of information on how to design user-friendly ones, many of them seem specifically designed to be user unfriendly.
Adobe’s gives a quick overview, of forms saying: ‘The typical form has the following five components:
- Structure: This includes the order of fields, the form’s appearance on the page and the logical connections between multiple fields.
- Input fields: These include text fields, password fields, checkboxes, radio buttons, sliders and any other fields designed for user input.
- Field labels: These tell users what the corresponding input fields mean.
- Action button: When the user presses this button, an action is performed (such as submission of the data).
- Feedback: The user is made to understand the result of their input through feedback. Most apps and websites use plain text as a form of feedback. A message will notify the user about the result and can be positive (indicating that the form was submitted successfully) or negative (“The number you’ve provided is incorrect”).
The input fields are likely to be the most infuriating – some limit the number of characters so in mid-word your entry stops, some require dates to be put in using a specific format (without guidance on which), some ask for county names. A while ago I spent ages trying to complete a form that required a county name for the city ‘London’, and wouldn’t accept ‘London’ as a county name. I hadn’t heard of ‘Greater London’ as a county – which is what it turned out was the required input.
The input fields that have an asterisk, indicating they are required fields are equally infuriating. On many occasions I’ve just typed in ‘xxx’ when I don’t think the info they require is necessary or relevant. It works for the most part.
Then there are the forms in pdf format that don’t allow you to fill them in by any method beyond printing them out, completing them by hand, and scanning them in to send.
I won’t go on. I’m just hoping that the coming week will have fewer form filling requirements and where they are required be straightforward to access and complete.