A system submits planning applications but we've observed the online system takes users much longer to complete than the paper version.

This is because the paper version has all form fields concentrated in a short amount of space (5 pages typically) and the user can score out sections not applicable:

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The online system splits the paper form across many pages (40 screens) and has complex validation rules so it knows which part of the form to display next (remember I said the user can strike through irrelevant parts in the paper system?)

My question: do you know any online form submission system that deliberately mimics a paper based system in terms of layout and 'user defined validation'?

  • I seriously don't get your question. The paper form takes 10-15 mins to complete. The online system 30 minutes. Why is that so? why can't I replicate the paper forms layout online? I don't why you can't. You can certainly achieve these forms using HTML and CSS.
    – Larivact
    Sep 18, 2015 at 12:04
  • I'll have a go at rewording
    – colmcq
    Sep 18, 2015 at 12:20
  • done although I think there will be no answer coming any time soon!
    – colmcq
    Sep 18, 2015 at 12:27
  • You're asking two different things here. The question title asks one thing, but the closing line of "do you know of any online forms..." is something else. Can you reword it to focus more around the question title side of this? So what if someone finds another form that matches the offline one. That's unlikely to help you.
    – JonW
    Sep 18, 2015 at 12:32
  • 1
    A question I would ask: if users can choose to strike out entire sections of the paper form, and this is what lets them perform faster, what happens if you try to design that same choice into the online version?
    – JeromeR
    Sep 19, 2015 at 10:57

2 Answers 2


I understand your problem.

I am going through a very similar problem and you can view it here: Fitting a Huge Real Life Insurance Form in a 7 Inch Tablet

The problem is the freedom you have while filling in details of the form on paper and Online.

When emulating your form online, it takes a whole new approach to engage the user with the form rather than he would have on paper. Online, you require to properly utilize screen estate and congestion isn't a solution, but a problem.

Dynamic control of a form, where the user can control if he/she wants to fill out a field can only work if it's set to Optional, which is equal to cancelling the field out.

The time it takes to fill an online form is more than a paper due to more screens, but it equalizes out because in the end, online you have to only type and click, whereas in the paper you need to write with a pen in small boxes and color boxes.

There isn't a solution to this, but to restrict huge forms to paper only or have some sort of Form completeness if you're looking to engage the user in completing the huge form slowly. Different rewards can work too.


Large forms take easily 40-50 screens, in which the greater the number of screens, the more frustrated the user will be. Hence a more fun style interaction could also prove to be useful.

  • some of these forms have 60 screens. I think a hybrid system would be the way forward. its something id love to test!
    – colmcq
    Sep 18, 2015 at 13:35
  • Definitely. So, I believe some of the forms could be filled on paper and then taken a snap of, which could be then transferred digitally. Sep 18, 2015 at 13:39
  • I wouldnt say that, I would say replicated the layout with densely packed fields but validate
    – colmcq
    Sep 18, 2015 at 13:42

The ability to play enforcer with database technology and conditionals is too great a temptation for most.

The fundamental difference between a paper form and a digital form is the ability to monitor, check, police and enforce both the input and options for input, as that input occurs on the digital form.

It's this last part, the ability to police and enforce that's causing the problem for users, and creating your questions.

A more profound trust of the users, giving them the right to ignore and/or put "N/A" for those things not applicable wherever they see fit, and then permitting communication between the someone that actually reviews a form and the submitter is a better situation for everyone.

Unfortunately that desire to use all of technology's capabilities, including corralling, monitoring, policing and enforcing activity is getting in the way. Ask the people tasking you with this if they're ok leaving it up to users how much they fill out... that way you'll at least know if there's the option to not be the gatekeeper to the form's fuller functionality and purpose as the instigator of communication.

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