Reader question: Tips for making forms

Email received last week via my contact form:

Corrie,

Love all the forms you’ve designed. Any practical advice or resources for a beginning form maker?

You rock,

Bob

First, thanks for the kind words, Bob!

In no particular order, here are all my thoughts about making forms.

  • Forms for me: I make forms that address a need for me. That means that it’s something I will actually use, test, and revise. This also generally means that the form might be useful for someone else. I haven’t made forms on request for someone else yet, so I’m not sure what that process would look like. Making a form that someone might find theoretically useful seems hard to me — it seems easier to make a truly useful form when you have actual users who can provide feedback. In my personal situation, I’m the main feedback-provider.🙂
  • Sketch the form first: I usually make a hand-sketched prototype before firing up the computer. This involves cutting a piece of paper to the desired size, then using pen or pencil to sketch out whatever fields I want. I might make a few different versions as I experiment with form element placement. This gives me a good idea of how many form elements can fit on the piece of paper and is a relatively quick way to design the form without spending too much computer-detail time.
  • Illustrator rocks: All my forms are made in Illustrator (with the exception of my Excel grocery shopping list). If, like me, you already have Illustrator, then it’s easy to get started. If you don’t, it could be a rather pricey investment just to make cool forms, so maybe you’ll want to try something you already have available — Word or Publisher, for example. Generally I find that Illustrator has the best fine-tune control, you can make custom vector graphics and make easy rounded-corner rectangles, plus it has awesome features like the Transform and Distort command that make duplicating elements super-easy. A few more Illustrator tips follow…
  • Easy copy in Illustrator: You can easily copy and place an object in Illustrator by selecting it with the black arrow tool (aka selection tool, keyboard shortcut “v”), holding the Ctrl or Command key, and dragging it to your new location. Hold Shift down as well to constrain the movement to a straight horizontal, vertical, or 45-degree angle. Actually, by holding the Ctrl key, you can copy an object while doing almost any kind of transformation — rotating, reflecting, etc.
  • Duplicate your last transformation: Let’s say you used my previous tip to move and copy a rounded rectangle to the right, so you now have two rectangles next to each other. You’d like to copy the rectangle again by the same distance. Instead of trying to drag another copy over just the right amount, type Ctrl/Command-D and your last copy/transform move will duplicate itself! Hit the keyboard combo as many times as you want to keep on duplicating.
  • Transform and Distort: If you have a group of objects that you want to duplicate (example – each row on my weight training workout sheet), use the Transform and Distort command. This allows you to edit the “base” group if you want to make changes instead of having to go through each and every row to make changes later! You can apply the Transform and Distort effect several times, too, so you can have groups within groups. Awesome!
  • Pretty forms: For nice-looking forms, make sure your elements align neatly. Use guides if you have to, or zoom in to check that the edges of boxes line up with each other. I think rounded rectangles make the form look friendlier, as do bright colors. But that’s just me.
  • Print, test, print: Once I have the form designed in Illustrator, I do a test print onto scratch paper, cut, punch, etc., and try out the form. I may make some tweaks immediately and do another test print, or it may take a few days of actually using my new form to figure out what I can improve.

Hope this is helpful, Bob! You might want to solicit advice from other form gurus. Dave Seah and Lori Linstruth come to mind, but I’m sure there are many more out there!

3 thoughts on “Reader question: Tips for making forms

  1. Thanks for sharing your tips! Re your comment about easy copy in Illustrator – the same trick works in Word to copy and paste graphics: Ctrl+select and drag and hold Shift to constrain to horizontal or vertical. Word’s graphic abilities are actually quite good for simple forms – and you can even make forms you can fill out on screen, with pull-down menus and all. Woohoo😉

  2. I love your monthly meals form, but needed more columns and don’t have Illustrator. So, with excel, I borrowed your form layout and made tweaks. Now I have a monthly meals form that has room for breakfast, snacks, lunch and dinner (to accomodate planning food for the whole family – well mostly dinner for us and food for Elizabeth.) Too bad it’s not as fun as your form though.

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