How to make sure people are able to use your form

Date adopted: 
July 26, 2023
Last update: 
August 9, 2023

The guidance on this page is for staff who are creating content for web forms. It offers guidance and tips to help you make sure your form will work for the people who will use them.

Do user research

As you are thinking about requesting a form, spend some time thinking about the people, or groups of people who will use the form. 

  • Who are these people?
  • When do you expect them to use the form? Once a year, a few times a year, multiple times a year?
  • How do you expect they will access your service? On a desktop computer while they are at work? On a mobile device while they commute to work? On a mobile device as they plop down on the couch after a long day?

All of the answers to these questions will help you:

  • create meaningful content for your form and
  • see if it works from the users' perspectives as you test the form to.

You can get more tips on how to do this initial user research on our User research in discovery page. You can also attend a free UX office hours session. 

Conduct user testing as you work with the forms designer to produce the final draft

As you work with the forms designer, you'll have an oppotunity to provide feedback. Often this feedback is focused on making sure the business needs will be met. It's also important to make sure you meet the needs of the people who will fill out the form. 

There should not be barriers for people to access the government's services and programs. You can make sure your form is not an obstacle for people by testing it on someone who does not work in your program or department. Ideally, you'd test the form with a handful of clients. 

How to test a form

If you want to fully immerse yourself in user research you can have a look at the user reseach techniques government teams use most often.

Recruit test participants

If you do not have a lot of time to recruit participants you can use 1 of the following options. 

  1. Test it on 2 to 3 clients. Many teams interact with clients on a daily basis and have ways to reach out to see if they might be interested in testing a form. 
  2. Test it on 2 to 3 staff members outside your program area. If you can get people who are representative of your user groups, that would be best. 

Observe someone completing the form

This does not have to be formal. You can set this up as a remote session where the participant shares their screen as they fill out the form or you can go to their office or invite them to your office.

Do at least 1 test with a person using the device your main user group is likely to use.

The key is making sure you can observe what they do. Some questions to ask yourself are:

  • Where are people getting stuck? 
  • Is everyone having trouble in the same places?
  • Can they complete the form on a mobile device?

Then, after the test you can answer those questions. Usually these answers give you a list of parts of the form that need some work before it's released to the public. 

Find solutions to any issues you identify

Sometimes the problems people encounter have really simple solutions. For example, a person entered data in the wrong format and then could not submit the form or proceed to the next page of a web form. If they knew the format and where they made the mistake, they would be able to move on. In this case, you could add hint text to show them the formatting they should enter.

Other times it can be challenging to figure out what the solution is. In these instances we recommend you get help.

  • You can reach out to your department website manager. They will be able to offer you insights and help find solutions to user issues.
  • You can attend a free UX office hours session to present your testing to the UX manager. They will help you come up with solutions you can implement and re-test to make sure they've addressed the issue.

Re-test to make sure you've addressed the issues

Once you and the forms designer or developer have implemented the solutions, re-test with a few more people to confirm they do not have the same issues.