Review: Fancy Form Design

Fancy Form Design book cover.Sitepoint has recently released a book called Fancy Form Design. Sitepoint was kind enough to provide me with a copy of it and being only 176 pages, I was able to finish it in short order.

Fancy Form Design is a quick read and has a clear focus: design quality forms. The book is broken down into 5 sections, each building on the one previous using a single project over the scope of the book. For a multi-author effort, this is impressive and appreciated.

The first chapter talks about form elements including browser built-ins such as checkboxes and select menus. It also covers enhanced widgets such as sliders and date pickers. This chapter also delves into research and interaction design.

The second chapter goes into form design from strictly a style and usability perspective. CSS isn't covered yet. In the third chapter, the actual HTML elements are discussed and goes through to form the markup of the example project. There is plenty of mention of accessibility throughout this chapter, which is very nice.

In the fourth chapter, we get into the nitty gritty of CSS. There's some initial discussion of reset stylesheets and then it dives into styling up the HTML from the previous chapter.

Finally, the last chapter looks at using JavaScript to provide enhanced functionality. The examples focus almost exclusively on jQuery, jQuery UI and plugins. The one thing that seemed severely lacking at this stage was more coverage of accessibility as it applied to the use of JavaScript and form design. My biggest concern would be implementing functionality that destroys any accessibility and usability gains described in earlier chapters.

Worth it?

This book is to the point and while the content is quality and informational, $30 is pricey for this compact publication.

Published November 13, 2009
Categorized as Review
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10 Comments · RSS feed
Nick said on November 13, 2009

Thanks for the review--I was wondering if this was worth it for spicing up forms.

I remember ordering a JS book from them a while back--overall I like the quality and flow of the SP books.

Paul M. Watson said on November 13, 2009

The second thing you've reviewed were there is an undercurrent of "I don't want to piss these guys off but this isn't all that great." Not terrible, just not great.

Jonathan Snook said on November 13, 2009

@Paul: it's not about pissing anybody off. I like to be fair and straightforward and provide a balanced review. And I think I attach monetary value to how good I think something is. In this case, I didn't think it was good enough to be worth the price they're charging. You're right, it's not terrible, just not great.

paul said on November 13, 2009

do they mention 2 column form layouts?
I need to do this but can't find any resources.

Jason Head said on November 15, 2009

I agree about the price-points. Sitepoint books always seems to learn towards the expensive side - not sure why. The content however, is usually good. Most of the time, when I want a sitepoint book, I'll opt for buying it on Amazon (about a $10 discount) or on EBAY.

Caroline Jarrett said on November 16, 2009

Paul said that he has to do a 2-column layout.

First step: try to persuade the clients/colleagues/stakeholders to change their minds. 2-column layouts are a nightmare for usability - see my article "Two column layouts are best avoided"

Second step: if you absolutely have to do the 2-column layout, then have a look at the advice in our book "Forms that work: Designing web forms for usability" - from all bookshops, or see

The main point: make sure that the reading/typing order is unambiguous.

Erik Wallace said on November 17, 2009

Does the sitepoint book go into validation and what to do if JS is disabled? Also, I've been wanting to write my own formmail script in PHP but haven't found a good tutorial on how to write your own. Any suggestions?

Jonathan Snook said on November 17, 2009

@Erik Wallace: the book covers how to build a form and how to display error messaging well before it gets to the JavaScript stage, which is the way it should be. As for your formmail script, I'd probably build my own or look to a pre-existing script (I've built one fairly quickly and easily with CakePHP).

Erik Wallace said on November 17, 2009

I've been meaning to do some research on CakePHP. Thanks Jonathan.

Jamie Web said on November 18, 2009

If you are looking to get enquiries from your website, then creating forms that look good and will encourage people to fill them out is important.

Sorry, comments are closed for this post. If you have any further questions or comments, feel free to send them to me directly.