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Wireframing a form wizard

I sharpened my wireframing skills, uncovered form and flow improvements, and created thoroughly commented artifacts that aided my handover conversation.

On a recent form wizard project I sought to develop a better process and superior design artifacts. I sharpened my wireframing skills, uncovered form and flow improvements, and created thoroughly commented artifacts. The documentation aided my handover conversation. Knowledge I gained also helps me recommend improvements in design systems.

My brief was to design a flow and build a prototype registration form. The purpose of collecting user details is to assess applications for a membership program. This program is to support startup and small business ideas.

Wireframing symbols

Near the end of the Wireframing with Balsamiq Mockups course is the valuable Symbols lesson. Using symbols in wireframes brings both consistency and speed to creating interfaces. Inspired by the Form Fields with Labels symbol library and the Form Design Patterns book, I created two particular symbols for the registration form:

  • Single line text input – including label, hint, validation error and input box
  • Multi-line text area – as this form asked several questions where longer answers are expected
A wireframe symbol for an email input includes a label, hint, exclamation icon and validation message, as well as a full width input box.
A text input symbol created and reused in form wireframes

Validation messages for wireframing text inputs

Like many forms, this one needs to validate data entered in many inputs. When creating wireframe symbols for text inputs I included visual elements described in my post: upgrading form validation messages. As shown above, in my text input symbol I expose and position an error message above the input. I do not follow Google’s Material Design for text fields which places error message below the input. Adrian Roselli and Adam Silver both published compelling arguments for positioning error message above the input.

Placing an exclamation icon before an error message provides an additional visual cue. This benefits users who experience limited colour vision or are not able to see colour well. Bake in accessibility at the wireframing stage to streamline it in subsequent stages. Improving accessibility becomes easier when decisions have been made early on. I colour the icon and error message in a red we all can use. When text is large enough this colour combination passes the direct sunlight simulated test. Colouring text in Balsamiq can be achieved via mark-up such as:

{color:#B61D14}Enter an email address in the correct format, like name@example.com{color}

Varying text input width via symbol instance properties

Most text inputs in the form use a full width box. However, setting input width to guide sighted users is advantageous for answering postcode, phone, and hours per week which have a known maximum length. Using the same symbol I narrowed the input box width by overriding properties of the symbol instance.

Wireframing symbol instances can have overriding properties such as setting the width relevant to the answers expected.

Simulating entering long answers on a mobile

Stakeholders may find it difficult to imagine what it would be like to fill out long answers on a mobile. Show them by simulating the experience in an older model phone.

Wireframe of a multi-line text area being filled out using an iPhone 6/7/8 with a virtual keyboard occupying the lower part of the screen.

Showing a label, a validation message, a 5 line text area and a virtual keyboard within a mobile device frame exemplifies the importance of concise microcopy, prioritised content and use of negative space. It also indicates what the experience might be for users completing the form using a mobile.

In this form, none of the questions for long answers have hint text. So the symbol I created for multi-line text input includes:

  • label
  • validation message
  • 5 line text area

Symbol use

My wireframes contained:

  • 6 instances of the single line text input symbol
  • 9 instances of the multi-line text area symbol

For efficiency and consistency, it was clearly worthwhile to create 15 instances of these 2 symbols.

Balsamiq comes with a range of device containers. Smartphone frames can stretch to fit content users would scroll for. I layout symbols and elements in smartphone frames. Where relevant, I’ll add a virtual keyboard. Scaling up the design to larger screens and physical keyboards can come later.

Communicating intent

Form flow can be achieved via linking from one wireframe to another. I created forward navigation via a primary button at the end of each step. Most form wizard steps include a back link for navigating to the previous wireframe. When I Export to PDF I select to include wireframe notes on each page and show hints that links will operate as expected. Check out my wireframe form wizard (PDF).

Wireframing form wizard patterns

This project introduced several novel elements in my work on form wizards. I created an opportunity to design for mobile first. Patterns new to me in this project include:

  • multi-line text areas for long answers
  • a check your answers page
  • a save your progress and resume later option

Wireframing these patterns and creating symbols gave a clear overview of the user flow. It also became obvious which symbols could become reusable components. I was very pleased that wireframing enabled me to bake in accessibility from an early stage.

Summary

Wireframing before coding helped me realise efficiencies and opportunities for better form flow. For example, after duplicating the Application in progress screen, only a few adjustments were needed to make the Application complete screen.

Assuming all questions and answer options must be in the final form wizard, wireframing helped me recognise 2 things I would do differently:

I learnt how to wireframe with Balsamiq and honed my form wizard design processes. Wireframing also made it easier to communicate the design intent of each component and page.

In my next post I’ll share what I learnt about coding this as a form wizard.

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