Where Have All the Ugly Forms Gone? Users and ADF Took Care Of It

Sometimes I hear that our application demos are a bit too "cutsey" and that we never talk about with any user roles that have lots of data entry as a requirement. Some (no names) consider those old clunker forms, with the myriad rows of fields, to be super-productive for data clerks.

We do have such roles covered in Oracle Fusion Applications for sure. But consider what is really the issue here: productivity. Check out how the Oracle Fusion Financials Applications User Experience team went about designing for productivity when receiving and entering invoice data, for example. See how Fusion Financials caters so well for input and control of data? Central to all this is knowing the users and how they work: what tasks do they need to perform, and when. Read more about Fusion Financials productivity in the white paper, Get It Done Fast, Get It Done Right: The Oracle Fusion Financials User Experience.

Now and then, I see forms that weren't designed for end user activity at all. Instead, they were designed by developers or by the IT department around the database schema. Forms with literally dozens of fields on the same page, sometimes. Forms that give the impression there was only task involved, when there may have been several. At times, completing one of these huge forms accurately became so tedious that, under pressure, it made more sense for the user to complete it quickly as possible and then let somebody else check it for accuracy and fill in the gaps from data emailed along in spreadsheet form. Data accuracy is critical in our business. Not good. Not efficient. Not productive.

So here are a few basics on forms design for data entry-type user roles. A great place for developers to start exploring what is possible with forms layout is the Rich Client User Interface (RCUI) guidance on Form Layout, using ADF components.

JDeveloper Form Design View


User-Centered Forms Design Considerations


The starting point--something you must always keep in mind with your own design--is design for the end user. Find a representative end user, and keep that user engaged throughout the design, deployment, and test process. Consider these points in user testing those forms:


  • Are there automated or technical solutions to entering the data that avoid manual input in the first place? For example, imports, uploads, OCR, whatever. Some day we will be able to tell Siri to do it, but leave that for now.
  • Design your form to reflect the task involved (i.e., the business process) and not the database schema.
  • On the form, group like fields together, logically.
  • Eliminate duplicate data entry or prepopulate from previous data entry.
  • Allow users to complete fields in the order they wish (i.e., no interdependency).
  • Allow for tabbing between fields (keyboard is faster than mouse), so know how the browser supports this (see that RCUX guideline).
  • Allow for final validation at the page level not at field-level entry. Way better for heads-down users. For example, ADF messages allow you to see a list of all validation errors on a page on a final submit or navigation action and to easily navigate to the point of error.
  • Better still, be error tolerant. Allow users to enter data in formats they comfortable with. Bind any relevant user preference setting to the input format allowed (for example, the locale date format). Explore what data entry conversion can do for you automatically too (see the ADF converter demos, convenience patterns can also be written).
  • Only ask for data input when it's needed. Get rid of, or hide optional fields.
  • Cut down on the number of mandatory fields, and mark them clearly (use a *).
  • Clearly label the fields in plain language.

I am sure you may have a few more tips on forms design for data entry users. Remember the user before finding the comments.

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Oracle applications user experience (UX) assistance. UX and development outreach of all sorts to the apps community, helping to design and deliver usable apps.

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Ultan Ó Broin. Director, Global Applications User Experience, Oracle Corporation. On Twitter: @ultan

See my other Oracle blog about product globalization too: Not Lost in Translation

Interests: User experience (UX), user centered design, design patterns, tailoring, BYOD, dev relations, language quality, mobile apps, Oracle FMW and ADF, and a lot more.

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