To explain a few concepts in usability in online forms, it’s best to go through an example.
To apply for a job at Teach for America (TFA) you have to fill out an online form. The first section looks like this.
At first glance, it seems easy to complete.
However, once you get past the first couple of sections, it asks you your previous involvement with TFA. It asks your affiliation with TFA several times in a great deal of detail. I have just pasted a section here to illustrate, but this section of the form goes on for awhile.
For example, it asks if you are a Corps Member. If you answer “No”, it asks you to complete the year you started and ended. This clearly doesn’t make sense if you have never been a Corps Member. Yet, the form still requires you to select N/A for “Beginning Year” and “Ending Year”. There are several questions like this.
When I applied for a position, it took a long time to submit my application because of this section. Every time I submitted the form, it was rejected because I didn’t fill out the details correctly. Try it for yourself and see what I mean.
It’s great that TFA is encouraging people with affiliations to the organization to apply for other positions within the organization, but their approach makes their application form cumbersome. I would imagine it may also discourage people without a past affiliation with TFA from applying since they project a strong emphasis on past experience with the organization.
I believe it is important to have validations and checks for incorrect or missing data that is important to the application but you run the risk of really peeving the user if it’s not done in a way that the user can easily complete the action required.
I would recommend TFA do some usability testing across several scenarios of users who would try to complete this form. Then, I would recommend a first step to making the user’s experience a bit easier. Revise this form to ask once if the applicant is affiliated with TFA in any way, and add some logic to expand the form for those with past affiliations to describe their affiliations in more detail.
This example could apply to a volunteer application, a ticket order or any other form your organization may want a user to complete on your site. Please consider the user when creating your online forms.