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Adobe FormsCentral Review

Radford C. May 15, 2012 3
4 out of 5 Rating

Adobe’s latest version of FormsCentral is one of the software giant’s solution at providing something many small web-based businesses have been dragging their feet on – making forms.

Filling out forms isn’t something people enjoy doing over the web. Unless you’re doing some serious online shopping, chances are you’re less likely to fill them out. Even worse, creating forms is as worse as it sounds: knowing what fields to choose, formatting how it displays in email, organizing your email list, etc. Most of the time, it’s never fun and it involves either doing your own coding or dealing with a web developer who’s trying to visualize your plan.


But Adobe, best known for powerful and complex design suites like Photoshop and Illustrator, has created something for the everyday man (or woman) wishing to simply collect information about their site’s visitors. The engineers behind FormsCentral has tucked away the HTML coding, data capturing, etc. FormsCentral’s paradigm is to remove all the complexity of building an attractive web form by creating a design tool for laymen. And even if you hate designing things and just want something up, there are over 50 templates to choose from that range from client questionnaires to rental applications. There are even forms for taking quizzes online or setting up RSVP for an event. Maybe you want to quickly produce a customer survey or setup a restaurant order. 


Whatever it is, it’s likely that you’ll find something that will work. And even if some of the templates fall short of being the form you want it to be, you can modify them and make them your own. Those who are familiar at creating submission forms through apps like Microsoft Access and Homestead will find FormsCentral’s approach to form building very friendly. Even if you’ve seen most of this before, what you probably haven’t seen in other tools that FormsCentral can provide is a solid tool that tightly integrates data management with form design. The View Responses list and Summary Reports within FormsCentral allow businesses to analyze data gathered from submitted forms, which can be embedded in websites, Facebook pages, Twitter, and even email campaigns. Try to do that with Access.

Setup

A free version of FormsCentral lets you try out the service but comes with too many restrictions to be worthwhile. You can create just one form and collect up to 50 responses. Worse, you don’t get any of the business functionality, which is almost pointless. The only reason to try the free version is if you’re doing things like RSVP for a small party or want to goof around with the form tools.

So, before we can get into the nitty gritty of using this thing, let’s talk about the cost. At $14.99 per month, you can create up to five forms each receiving up to 500 responses. Stuff like adding attachments, data organization, analysis, and redirecting users to a friendly URL after submission are all included. But if you’re one of those who is form crazy about everything and gets so much feedback through email, you can go for the highest-tiered subscription. At $199 per year, this version gives you unlimited forms at 5,000 responses per form as well as all the features mentioned above. Paid subscribers can upload attachments of up to 20MB per form while the free version dwarfs at a mere 100KB per upload.

To sign up, users will need an Adobe ID. If you’ve downloaded Adobe trial software before, you’ve basically saved yourself a step since this assumes you already have an Adobe ID. Again, a free trial account does not give you all the features which is somewhat strange considering how Adobe allows full function use of other trial software like Dreamweaver or Photoshop.

Once you’re in, a small splash screen gives you two simple decisions:

1.) Set up a new form from scratch
2.) Choose a template.

As mentioned earlier, there are quite a number of templates to build a form around. Below is a screenshot of the types of templates that are available at your disposal and categorized for your convenience:

Keep in mind that this list will continue to expand and that you can also save your own template and even export the design file.

Even cooler are is each of the form’s accessibility on mobile devices that are not limited to iOS devices, Windows Phone, Android 2.2 and higher. And yes, Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4) versions work as well too.

The Form Creating Experience 

The interface differs greatly from its software-installed brethren. Comprised of big icons and predictable tabs, the interface makes great use of user-friendly icons, arrows and the like.

Anyone used to working in any type of productivity software should have very little problem creating and modifying forms. The forms design mode is easy to consume at first glance by making use of graphic metaphors that make sense. Icons that look like they move will move. Icons that make it obvious that you can add an elements to the form can do so. The interface is subtle yet meaningful enough to let you know that changing backgrounds, colors, fonts, and text is as easy as dragging and dropping.

You can even upload your own images and the app will try to minimize distortion but you’ll still have to depend on something like Photoshop to fine tune your image. It’s unfortunate that you can’t do something like cropping or rotating – a feature that’s built into free open source platforms like WordPress. It’s strange considering that a company synonmous for photo editing would include it on their online app as part of the deal.

But, you can still do the more important stuff like checklists, radio buttons, email, and data fields. Users can validate fields so that you can hide unnecessary parts of the form unless they’re called upon. So, if a “yes” answer branches into more options, FormsCentral just displays them. Otherwise, that portion of the form will just hide. Of course, if you’re looking for more advanced conditional forms where there’s alot of branching, you won’t find it here. Simplicity is what they’re aiming at and it looks good.

Additionally, there are some features here that make use of collaborating with other team members, although I’d be hard pressed to see any team having to work together on, well, forms. Nevertheless, designers can assign user roles to forms which include positions like Author, Co-Author, Contributor, and Reader.

There are some other features worth mentioning. For instance, if you have a form you no longer want users to fill out, you can add a closed message that users will see upon accessing the form. Whenever someone clicks to submit a form you can setup a custom confirmation message or just use the sample in FormsCentral. Users can also be redirected to a URL upon form submission.

Of course, all of this fun in form creating can’t be any fun without people willing to fill them out. So, Adobe makes it simple to distribute forms and provides several ways. You can make a form available as a dedicated link from the FormsCentral website or as an embeddable widget.

Ultimately, creating forms was easy on FormsCentral. The interface flows easily and any rules and fields that were created can be easily tested without any problems. But the biggest piece, which also happens to be the latest update, was the data integration of the data captured from the forms as you merge the data into apps like Excel, PDF, and even delimited text files that work with internal financial systems. Even better, you can use your PayPal Premier or Business Account to integrate directly with the form.

Even if you don’t run a shop at home, you can view the results of that submitted data within the FormsCentral dashboard and break down responses in a more consumable way via the Summary Reports. FormsCentral users can work with the table in much of same way as with a spreadsheet, adding data and formulas as needed.

FormsCentral creates a nice graphical representations of data in the form of colorful charts and numbers. Charts offer a quick glance at valuable information such as the percentage of users who answered a question in a particular way. Business users are given a relatively affordable way to collect important data for further analysis and for importing it into existing systems.

We Love Numbers

If there’s one thing I love (and many of the editors will attest to this), it’s numbers. Wonderful numbers. Adobe’s latest version of FormsCentral (at build #686810) presents these statistics and submissions in a meaningful way. Data rules the world of business and how you gather that data as well as break it down is perhaps one of the most important aspects at positioning your business for optimal growth.

On the other hand, FormsCentral can be used for something more common like finding out how many people will attend a child’s birthday party but I feel that this kind of app is a bit overkill for these sorts of things. FormsCentral works best in a business use case and when you’re leveraging surveys from your blog’s readership, or gauging the user experience of your e-commerce site, this is the tool to get. It will avoid arguments with the wrong web developer while getting something up quickly in minutes.

It’s fitting, then, that form development has evolved to the point where everything that a business owner needs is available up front. If you’re this person, it’s worth it.

Gallery

Sample of Summary Report

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  • http://www.adrikodde.nl/ akodde

    Thanks for your article. Question though: what kind of software would you recommend for more powerful forms? E.g. forms that support conditional confirmation emails and responsiveness?