Build your forms properly. Please.

For years, I’ve been amazed at the number of companies which require me to go to the effort of completing a ‘form’ in a Microsoft Word document, in order to do business with them. However, last month I was even more staggered to receive a ‘form’ from a large organisation (oh what the heck, it was Royal Mail) which was a Microsoft Excel document!

I don’t know where to begin with how awful a customer experience this was. Not only did I need a PC with Excel installed just to give them the information they required, but when I did open it, the spreadsheet was really horrible. The text was unreadably tiny (I’m guessing someone had created it many years ago on what was then a standard resolution monitor) and the column widths didn’t make sense for the answers.

One of the reasons that web-based forms have revolutionised business administration is that they’re easy to complete (or at least should be), and work on any device, without any specific software being required. What’s more, the data entered can go straight into a database without any chance of transcription error or other corruption.

They can also be models of clarity, as anyone who’s used the gov.uk websites will know.

The other ‘universal’ format for forms is PDF, which provides more control over the design and branding, and will always print on paper in a consistent format. However, it has its drawbacks, as this government blog from 2018 explains.

For those who just want to generate a quick form, sending a Microsoft Word document to be completed might be tempting. Please don’t do this. Google Forms takes about 15 minutes to master, and can drop any number of responses straight into a spreadsheet. There are many other alternatives. For more important forms, designed to service a number of customers over a long period, get them created as a web (HTML) form by a proper designer or using one of the many excellent tools available.