Online forms have become much more elegant and usable in the last couple of years as developers take advantage of “Web 2.0” technologies like visual effects and “behind-the-scenes” calls to the server. In fact, I have seen forms that are just downright fun to fill out, which is something that I never thought I would admit. However, developers need to understand the cost of using these technologies, and some basic best practices with regard to implementing them.
Secondly, users have a certain expectation when they are browsing the Internet, and oftentimes “Web 2.0” features fly in the face of those expectations. A good example is that most users expect a page will load in the browser when they click a link. Sending an Ajax call in the background to update information does not cause a page load, and without additional interaction a user would have no idea that anything happened at all. It’s important that developers be sure to communicate to the user when things are happening, and what the result was. The ubiquitous “highlight” visual effect, where a page element turns yellow and then slowly fades back to white, and rotating “loading” icons are great examples of effective ways of communicating. Without some careful consideration by developers, features that should make a form easier to use can quickly make it awkward and difficult.