A design framework to solve complex form filling process in the public sector domain.
Updated: Jan 6
To serve customers better, collecting data (legally, of course) from our users, using forms, has been a crucial part of every product. However, there are situations where this process can become very complicated. Mainly in applications built for the public sector or fintech. I recently worked on a government project to redesign their benefits program application & management platform for US citizens. This digital platform seemed to be from the stone age of the internet. I faced a challenge in simplifying a complex user flow with gazillion data entry fields, having a conditional dependency on each other. (See the explanation also sounds complex) Along with it, the user set we were designing for was not highly educated or tech-savvy.
Our research analysis suggested that people generally go through a life event (personal or professional), after which they would want to interact with such applications. For instance, consider having a baby. During such times, getting to know or applying for the right benefits could be tedious.
Hence we started looking at similar complicated journeys like filing your tax returns or finding the right insurance for you and your family. These journeys deal with a lot of complex business processes. That's why most of the digital solutions to file tax returns or buying insurance end up being cumbersome or very confusing. (Argh, are taxes ever going to be easy?)
Although there are a few digital products that help us get through this tedious process with ease while making this task simple, fast, and dare I say fun. What is it that sets them apart from the rest? Various factors play a considerable role, such as -
Using a friendly tone of voice
Building trust with microcopy
Reinforcing your brand with imagery
Although these are the nuts and bolts to support the main structure, if you observe, there is an overarching framework used here.
Users are engaging with your product because of a life event that triggered them to take action. Start with identifying what that event was. To do so, categorize various life events or situations as your selection options. For instance, you are shifting to a new house, getting married, having a baby, buying a new car, filing taxes, or having a medical condition, etc. It helps you understand your user's current situations and state of mind.
Let's go with our previous example of having a baby. The user now has ample responsibilities and not enough resources at hand (👶 🍼 new responsibilities). One of them being, to look for childcare benefits. The struggle is real, and people who experience this want others to acknowledge it rather than fixing it. While the users tell us about their situation, use a friendly tone of voice for your microcopy to convey that we understand, and we are here to support them. It will make their journey less stressful.
Now that we have acknowledged their life situation before we start putting lengthy forms for them to fill, why not understand their circumstances better? If one of your design objectives is to guide the users through the process, then asking questions on their current situation is the right approach. It helps the system to craft the forms as per your user's needs. For instance, think about a career counselor. He or she will always ask you questions to know your choices before they can suggest career-related options. So it's essential to ask before you can tell.
You are already gathering information since the time you acknowledged your user's situation. Although now it's time to get to the part which will help them get to what they are looking for. Knowing their choices in the second step of the process, you can tailor your forms to be short and precise, with only specific information to be filled in.
Instead of making users fill all the possible information and then telling them what part of it is required, you define the best path for your users. You start with small and manageable steps with a progressive conversation. So, your product not only collects data from the users by asking questions but also guides them along the way to share the right information, i.e., they are actually filling out the form. And that my friend is how following this framework can simplify the complicated process, thereby creating a personalised experience for your users while putting them at ease.
Want to know about UX strategies to guide users through complicated journeys. Refer this article.
Don't know the best practices about designing complex forms? Read here.