Your brain craves a well-ordered checklist

I bet you love checklists.

Even if you're shaking your head right now, looking for the unsubscribe link, I bet you secretly love checklists.

Don't believe me? Think back to the last road trip you took. The more boring the drive, the more you were probably looking for signs of progress — counting the exits or mile markers. 

That's what checklists are — a way to signal to our brains that we're making progress.

Forms are relationships

Forms are basically checklists. Forms break up a larger task, making communication more manageable. And isn't that what relationships are all about?

With each conversation completed field, your partner customer feels a tiny sense of accomplishment. Making them feel like they’re getting somewhere is a good way to ensure they do what you want them to do — like marry you complete the form.

That's why forms are an opportunity to build a better relationship with your customers. At the very least, a form is a chance to minimize the pain of a dreary interaction — at their best, forms can be an opportunity to delight your customers. 

And since the human brain craves a sense of progress, you can use that to your advantage when you’re married designing a form.

(Hi Christie!)

VIE for order

Think about the last time you interviewed someone for a job (or you sat for an interview). Was the first question one that put the other person on their heels? Probably not. You probably opened with some easy questions to make everyone feel more comfortable.

Why should your form content be any different?

(I feel an acronym coming.)

When you’re designing a form, prioritize questions that are:

  • Visually appealing,

  • Impersonal, and/or

  • Easy to complete


(Long-time readers will have seen this photo before; Long-time readers should know they will probably see i again.)

visually appealing question might be a multiple choice question with images for each option. For example, in testing a form where users can book salon services, I’ve found that users are eager to get started if the first question asks them to choose which stylist they would like to visit by selecting from a collection of headshots. Our brains are hard-wired to like faces. Use that to your advantage and decrease the number of people who drop out before they even get started.

Impersonal, non-sensitive questions won’t raise any eyebrows right out of the gate — don’t start by asking for their credit card information.

An easy to complete question might be a simple multiple choice question — no text entry, no thinking required.

It’s best to organize questions into groups that make sense but also try to save questions that require more difficult choices or that are open-ended for later in the form. The same goes for questions of a personal or relatively sensitive nature — or questions that are just plain boring.

Prioritizing questions in this way builds momentum for the user. With each question they complete, they’re more invested in the process. People don’t want to feel that they’ve wasted their time. They’re less likely to abandon the form if you can give them some early wins.

Employees love checklists, too

Though they may not know it, either.

A well-structured and pared down form makes life easier for your employees, too, which means less waste. The more precise you are in organizing the information you need into fields that are easy to complete, the less time you or your staff will have to spend following up with customers to get the info you need.

Now, go take a look at the contact form on your website.

Does it make for a nice checklist? Is the information you need most broken up into nice, discrete chunks — or does it just ask for their name, email address, and then a comments field? How many people have submitted in the past week? Do you often have to follow up to gather the same information over and over? If you do have different questions, could the order of the questions be improved? Could it open with the easy questions or could you develop more visually appealing options?

Now consider that companies lose over $4 trillion dollars every year due to abandoned formsAnd that’s just online shopping carts — not donation forms or booking forms or any other type of form you might assign a value to, like application forms or contact forms. How much revenue and time could you save by improving your online forms?

Thanks for reading,


Kyle Bowen