An online submission portal has slowed an application process down


This is a sample of a paper form that allows users to submit planning applications. The forms run from 5 pages to 20 and would typically take 10-15 minutes for a domain expert to complete.

The online version, however, has slowed the application process and now it takes users 3 times as long.

This is because:

  • The form is split into many pages
  • The user cannot strike through sections not applicable to him or her
  • There are pages containing only a few form fields; screens are not input rich like they are on paper
  • Validation rules are used to decide which parts of the form to render next/ validate input

Could the online system could be improved by mimicking the paper form? Obviously field alignments and readability could be improved and validation needs to be taken into account, but the whole concept of ‘here is the paper form on the screen for you to fill out’ is an interesting concept.

But what do you think? Why is it that in 2015 an online application is more of a burden to fill out than the paper form?


That is a great observation.

Jed Harris and Austin Henderson argued already in 1999 for what they called pliant systems ( Instead of forcing organizations and people to adapt to information systems, we have the skills and the tech to design systems that support change and accommodation, they argued. Form filling was one of the main examples in their paper. Perhaps now is the time to actually act on it.


Thanks Jonas

Shame that article is behind a paywall, sure looked interesting.

Yes, this issue goes way beyond simple concepts as layout, it’s a complex thing.


Very sorry for linking to a paywalled article. That was sloppy. The CHI 99 paper is also available from and on the web page from ca 2000 there are links to some more material along the same lines:

Jonas Löwgren


That’s a neat paper.

While the paper system enforces some regularities the user is still free to adapt it to a circumstance; the online system has no such freedom, of course.

I’ll be reading more articles from your link this afternoon.




Thanks you for the links. :slight_smile: Even if it’s a bit old.


My first thoughts are a form that is up to 20 pages long is typically skimmed first before filling out, and I can do it anywhere. Once its online I am forced to use a computer with at least dual 24inch monitors so I can review several pages side by side.

Its similar to building a shed, which I just did. I reviewed a 20 page paper doc first so I understood what was going to be required of me first before jumping in. This had me prepared in advanced for the next step.
How many times have you filled out an online medical claim form thinking it was just going to be a few entries only to discover that there was going to be a heck of a lot of ground work required before you could complete.
Once its online I can only see one page at a time, I cannot review that page 10 is going to require me to have proof of title ownership or other identification that I have to dig up, I can’t see that information on page five relates to something on page seven. I can only see one page at a time and have no idea what is next. Every page becomes a possible unexpected context switch, and we know how context switching at work takes a toll on project completion time.

Plus if it is that long and I am a domain expert, I probably know that only two pages are required from me, the supporting documents I need and the rest are simply sign here, sign here. Its similar to a life insurance application. My agent is the proxy expert and has already filled the important parts, crossed out what does not apply and all I have to do is sign on page 3, 10 and 15.


context and visibility of system state critically important in form design