A Review – Fancy Form Design



As I’m designing forms I don’t usually have an issue making then usable or accessible within the limits of the clients budget.

However taking the form to the next level technically can sometimes be an issue. This is exactly what Fancy Form Design by Jina Bolton, Tim Connell and Derek Featherstone is all about, designing and building those great forms on the web.

When I first purchased this book (yes I do purchase my books, they aren’t usually review freebies) I was a little skeptical as to whether this book would have any content in it that would be relevant to me. This is an issue that I’m running into more and more these days.

I was surprised. I was expecting a dry developer focused book on form design. It is not. This is a good book, well worth the 4-5 hour read. I found that it wasn’t just one of those books you read once either, it’s also a great reference book.

This book is focused on the front end developer or back end developer that wants to enhance their forms. Even a UX designer like me with hands on skills will get something from this book.

While I was reading this book I was constantly thinking, well that’s great, but what about this accessibility or usability issue – yeah I can’t help it. But you know not a one or two paragraphs later I was presented with the solution or consideration for those issues. It’s great to see a practical book that is on same page as I am.

The Content

Interestingly the book layout parallels the way in which you design and develop an online form. The book itself walks you through a centralised case study for the development of a series of forms. Fancy Form Design is a book very heavy in code and visual examples as well, which makes it a very useful future reference tool.

The first section of the book deals with the planning phase of development, looking at the types of form elements, and the ways they are presently being  enhanced on the web. It also looks at the usual competitive analysis process. Moving on to my favourite part the interaction design of the form, now it doesn’t spend a lot of time in this area as there are some good books on the market already that handle this area in detail.  There is a bit of a discussion on task flows, paper prototyping and wireframing (which I personally think we can do without).

The form design section of the book walks through the usual suspects, of the grid, typography, the use of colour and micro imagery to enhance a form’s presentation. This section is about the graphical design only. It’s the next section that walks you through the building of the form.

You then get to the bones of the matter, the development of the form structure. There are a good series of examples here on how to build a form correctly to overcome most of the common accessibility and usability issues. Basic issues such as the correct practice for use of labels, error messages, required fields and help text are reviewed and discussed with clarity here.   This is an area you might think you know backwards, however it’s always worth a review on these matters.

Now we have the structure of the forms it’s time to use some CSS to style the final forms. Fancy Form Design walks you through the issues of using various resets and the various ways form elements render in different browsers (I’m looking at you IE) and ways to overcome them. I didn’t expect to find anything new in this section, and I didn’t, still your mileage may vary on this one.

The final chapter is on enhancing your forms beyond the stylised CSS/HTML layout with the help of jQuery.

This is the section I enjoyed the most in this book. It looked in detail at select menu, radio and checkbox styling as well as conditional question displays, date selectors, password strength indicators and a basic auto-complete. All this is presented in an easy to follow manner, which makes implementing these enhancements progressively on your forms, with jQuery, really easy. There is even a reminder about input validation, doing it on the client and server sides.

Only the downside, I personally think the last section of the form enhancement was a bit to short. I could have done with another 10-20 pages of additional enhancements to the case study in question. A little more detail on the  jQuery level would have been good too  (small birdie tells me watch for a Sitepoint jQuery Book very soon).

Finally – the last word

Overall it’s good book, entertaining, well written, not overly long, full of immediately practical examples that anyone familiar with form design and development can use.  It’s good to see more of these micro topic books being written than the large 500 page tomes of yesterday.

Side note: why have I been reviewing lots of Sitepoint books of late, well maybe it’s something to do with their range of books.

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