2013 Conference

Rethinking Your Online Forms: No Assembly Required

Rethinking Your Online Forms: No Assembly Required

Cedric Savarese, Founder and CEO
Jaret Manuel, Director of Business Development

Veer West LLC /

Cedric and Jaret started their #heweb13 session with a quick intro of FormAssembly, a web form management solution that serves over 6,000 customers, including over 70 higher ed institutions.

Cedric worked at DePauw University for several years as part of the web team, and his experience interacting with the faculty and staff, and seeing the needs for forms and data collection, was instrumental in shaping the FormAssembly solution.

Cedric identified three types of “problematic” form creators that are common across higher ed organizations.

1. The Rogue Form Creator

The Rogue needs to collect data, but for whatever reason, is on his/her own to find a solution. Perhaps there’s no system in place across the organization for people to create forms, or maybe IT is overworked and too slow to deliver what the Rogue needs. The result is that the Rogue will build or pick his own ad-hoc solution. While this solution typically works for the Rogue, it may not work for the organization as a whole. The Rogue may be duplicating an effort done somewhere else, or s/he may not be aware of all the requirements, policies, and best-practices around form and data collection, leaving the people responsible for compliance, privacy, and security in the dark.

2. The Form Hero

The Hero is a very technical person and a problem solver. She may have identified recurring requests and built a homegrown form management system to handle them. This approach typically works well as long as the Hero can dedicate enough time to maintain the solution. Inevitably, though, the Form Hero eventually retires and moves on to bigger and better things. The homegrown system then becomes slowly obsolete. Users become frustrated until the day when a new Hero appears, scraps the previous Hero’s system, and goes on to reinvent the wheel one more time.

3. The Reluctant Form Creator

The reluctant form creator somehow ended up with the job of creating forms even though it’s not in her job title and is taking time away from their normal responsibilities. She also hasn’t received the appropriate training to be effective, which makes the task even more frustrating. Creating forms is not fun.

Jaret provided an overview of 12 common challenges around online forms:

  1. Getting forms right is hard — maybe harder than most think. It might be easy for a web developer to create a form from scratch, but there’s really more to it than just writing HTML.

  2. Forms must be easy to use and accessible. You won’t get the data you need if respondents are confused by the form or unable to fill it out.

  3. Forms need the right feature set, e.g., input validation, email notifications, conditional logic, save & resume, unicode/language support.

  4. Creating forms is time-consuming. It leads to backlog and bottlenecks, invites rogue form creators, and keeps you from getting things done.

  5. Requirements often change, which means you need to be able to keep up with the pace as you try to bring your forms into production or up to date.

  6. The technology changes too. Forms need to work across different devices (tablets, smartphones) and new browsers, as well as take advantages of new technologies (HTML5).

  7. Forms must be secure. Vulnerabilities like SQL injection, XSS, and others can lead to data loss, data breaches, lawsuits, and PR nightmares.

  8. Data must be private. Deploying SSL, encryption at rest, access control list, audit logs and so on, is challenging, and privacy is paramount whether your data is in the cloud or behind your firewall.

  9. There’s the law: Section 508c (Accessibility compliance), FERPA, PCI compliance (not a law, but important), HIPAA, and various state laws, all impact your form and data management processes.

  10. Data shouldn’t be re-entered multiple times. You shouldn’t have to ask for info you already know, and you shouldn’t have to do more data entry to get data from one system to the next.

  11. Data should go where it’s needed. Streamlining your processes requires your form to be able to talk to multiple systems, so you can make good use of your data right away.

  12. Forms don’t always have a single purpose. For example, an event registration form might collect registrant info and subscribe them to an email newsletter.

Cedric concluded with a few pieces of advice:


  • Don’t reinvent the wheel. Make your life easier with existing software.

  • Make usability improvements easy. Make sure you get a good feature set so you don’t have to compromise on usability and accessibility.

  • Don’t sacrifice yourself. It’s okay to delegate form creation to the stakeholders to streamline the process and free up your resources.

  • Don’t compromise on security. Whoever creates the form shouldn’t need a Information Security degree. You want a system that is secure by default.

  • Centralize your forms and data, so you can keep track and be confident that policies and best practices are followed, and that your data is safe.

  • Connect your forms with the databases, apps, and web services you use to really get the most out of them.


Watch the FormAssembly demo:

For more info: | @FormAssembly


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