Measuring Great Design – Mad Libs Input Form

image of mad libs pads

I came across a really interesting article, showing how making changes to the way an input form on a website increased interaction by 25 to 40%. The changes reflect the value of thinking outside-in, investing in user experience, and performance measurement.

Bonus: the idea is cool.

Mad Libs Input Form

before and after screenshot of mad libs input form redesign[full size image available in Luke’s article]

The idea being presented is to replace the old boring web input form designed for a computer. The new, fun form is a fill-in-the-blank (aka Mad Libs) layout. The article is on Luke Wroblewski’s site.  The team at created and tested a version of this form for the Kelly Blue Book site. [Luke cites as the first place where he saw this technique.] Thanks, Luke for sharing this with all of us!

Outside-In Development

Product managers are acutely aware of the need to solve market problems. We are regularly reminded that we’re creating solutions for people in our markets who use our products to solve their problems. When we write requirements, we avoid writing design specifications, and thereby lose the ability to enforce that the proposed solutions also take an outside-in approach. We maintain an outside-in perspective, but we lost the ability to influence an outside-in aesthetic.

Note: Outside-In Software Development is a great book, you should read it.

That’s one area where user experience works well in concert with product management – assuring that the same drivers of what to build are informing the design of how it is built.

The genius (or at least elegance) of this Mad Libs form from Vast / Kelly Blue Book is that it humanizes the experience of requesting that a nearby dealer contact you to discuss a possible purchase of a car from them. The forms we’ve all had to fill out on countless web sites are very inside-out. They expose the inner workings of the program – “gather this info, and that info, and this other info.” Those forms force users to do what the program wants. Blech. The form that Ron Kurti designed, however, forces the program to do what the users want. Huzzah!

Bad Requirements Prevent Elegance

I’ve written about the importance of writing design-free requirements several times.  Avoiding design constraints in your requirements is even one of the pillars of the big 10 rules of writing requirements.

If you had written the requirements for this contact the dealer page, would you have specified the design of the form?

Most of the requirements analysts I’ve worked with would have. I’ve even worked with companies that have developed templates / stencils defining how these interface specifications must be documented – requiring that all the fields be aligned, with specific pixel gaps, etc.

If you had specified the design (read: limited the choices of the designer), you would have prevented this solution.

Mr. Kurti’s elegant solution is clearly better.

One way to write the requirements that would not have prevented this solution would be with a user story and acceptance criteria:

As a car-shopper, I want to engage a car dealer, once every few years, so that I can purchase the car I selected.

  • The car-shopper can provide his contact info (name, email, phone) for the car dealer.
  • The system will display the information identifying the selected vehicle.
  • The system will display the information identifying the dealer being contacted.
  • The system will include an opt-in newsletter-subscription option.
  • The system will notify the specified dealer when the car-shopper indicates.

The user story nudges the developers into an outside-in perspective by emphasizing the user’s goal. The acceptance criteria make it clear that any solution that meets those criteria is acceptable to the product manager. It allows the interaction designer to create a compelling solution, rather than forcing him to recreate a boring experience.

Measurement Rocks

The Vast team measured the impact of making this change to their form, and saw between a 25% and 40% increase in conversion (people contacting dealers versus people abandoning the process when they see the form). That’s a lot more leads for the dealers, and presumably a lot more money for Kelly Blue Book and Vast. This is a great example of how you can measure the impact of investing in user experience, because it should spark ideas for you.

What can you measure and test and improve?

Now that’s ROI for you.

19 thoughts on “Measuring Great Design – Mad Libs Input Form

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  13. It is interesting, because when specifying web sites that can be read by blind people, this is how you have to think your screen layouts.

    I like it!


    1. Thanks for the comment, Gil! I’m working with a client now to see how well this fits with their brand, and look at doing a more conversational web form for their site.

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