Draft curriculum for ‘How to Design a Form’

Caroline Jarrett trying out curriculum ideas at the Leeds GovDesign Meet
Caroline Jarrett trying out curriculum ideas at the Leeds GovDesign Meet.
Photo by Simon Wilson @ermlikeyeah

Post originally published in 2019; updated in 2022

In March 2019, I was working mostly with the NHS digital standards and redesign team on their advice about patterns.  This post:

  • gave the background to the work,
  • explained about the draft curriculum for advice about ‘how to design a form’, and
  • asked people to comment on the curriculum.

In April 2019, I did a webinar for Digital.Gov that updates the ideas in this post with more results.

The NHS digital team kept working on the ideas and released How to write good questions for forms later in 2019.

Work on other ideas in the curriculum got paused in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

I’m updating this in August 2022. At this point, NHS Digital team continues to work on the service manual. I’m hoping that some of the other ideas in the curriculum will get attention when they have time.

My August 2022 edit includes updates to some of the details below to remove links that are outdated – the findings remain the same.

It’s easy to find forms patterns in the NHS digital service manual

The NHS digital service manual includes forms patterns.
We’ve found that designers and developers (our main users) can do two things quite easily:

    1. Get to a forms pattern
      • Click through the navigation to get to a component
      • Find the forms pattern that they need, for example buttons.
    2. Use the forms pattern to build a form:
      • Find the section about production code
      • Follow the instructions.

As with everything that we do, we aim to use GDS advice where possible and our patterns link through to the GDS design system where appropriate.

It’s more difficult to get overall advice about forms

We’ve found that if your team doesn’t include a designer, or your designer wants to check the service manual advice on how to design a form overall, then it’s more difficult to find that advice. If you’d like to try it yourself, try getting to the GDS advice on structuring forms – start with one thing per page – but start from the home page of the NHS Digital Service Manual.

We believe that teams need advice because recently a team built a form with our components but the form did not test well with users. We think that advice that is easier to find, and possibly better advice, might have helped the team to build a better form.

We are also keen to be sure in general that teams create good stuff when they use our front-end system and follow our advice. Ian Roddis, service manual product lead, explains more about this in The path of user needs, avoiding beautiful nonsense, and the shelves of wisdom.

The ‘how to design a form’ curriculum is a step on the way to overall advice

Simon Wilson, organiser of the Leeds Govdesign Meet, gave me the opportunity to try my first draft of a curriculum on ‘how to design a form’ at the meeting on 27th February 2019. I knew that the meetings attract a knowledgeable and friendly group of people working in various areas of government and health, and the folks who came to the meeting helped me greatly. My draft curriculum and a selection of their comments are in these slides:

How to design a form: Discussing a curriculum from a session by Caroline Jarrett at the Leeds GovDesign Meet, February 2019

Lots of thanks to Simon Wilson and to everyone at the meet.

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