While we have to develop web applications for general public, sometimes it happens that we have to target a specific type of audience. I'll use a theoretical use case to elaborate my question:

A developer is building a web application which will actually serve as a job portal for people related to auto industry. I understand that perhaps the background should contain some fancy cars in front of buildings but what I need to know is what should be the effect on the forms? Or is there any effect at all? By 'forms' I mean their job application form, signup form and so on.

  • I understand that perhaps the background should contain some fancy cars in front of buildings. What has that got to do with it? Now I'm confused. Are we talking about background images or domain knowledge of the users. Or both? Do you mean terminology or visuals? Do you mean signup forms for emails? Sign-up forms should be simple and not domain specific. Job application forms clearly can include domain specific terminology... Aug 1, 2011 at 11:07
  • I am talking about presentation. I gave the example of background images to illustrate that I am aware it should be domain specific. What I need to know is whether different types of forms should contain certain domain-specific visuals (look and feel of text inputs, for example) or not? Aug 1, 2011 at 11:33

1 Answer 1


You can use standard controls such as text boxes and dropdown lists for nearly all users. A brief observation or survey of the users using other apps and web sites will confirm this in your particular case. Generally broad characteristics of your users (age, gender, occupation, national origin) are poorly correlated with the ability to understand and use individual controls.

User background is more important for the content, representations, and organization of the form. All should be consistent with how your particular users think and the domain you’re working in, which can only be determined through research.

For content, you need to be sure to include the right questions. For example, it’s highly relevant to include a checkbox for auto mechanics to indicate if they own their own tools, but not for auto salespeople.

For representations, you need to attend to:

  • Symbols, for example the icon or image used to represent physical tools will be different for an auto mechanic (e.g., a box wrench) and a mason (e.g., a trowel).

  • Codes, for example for many users red means danger and green means safe, but for boiler operators, red means closed and green means opened (which is not necessarily safe).

  • Units, for example many workers measure experience in years on the job, but pilots measure it in hours flying.

  • Formats, for example military and railroad personnel are comfortable with a 24 hour clock to express time, while most Americans are not.

  • Terms, for example asking program managers to describe their significant accomplishments is very different from asking scientists to describe their significant discoveries; for the latter “significant” has a very specific statistical implication.

  • Abbreviations, for example ABS refers to a braking system for auto mechanics while it refers to a signaling system for railroad maintenance.

Finally there is the layout of the questions, the order and grouping both within a page and between pages of a multi-page form. The order should be consistent with how your users organize information in their head and with the organization of the information on any documents they may be referring to (e.g., diplomas, certificates, licenses).

  • This is a fabulous answer. If I could give you multiple up-votes, I would. Aug 2, 2011 at 15:33

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