In UX design for web or mobile apps nothing is just black and white, good or evil, resultful or useless. Effectiveness of various design solutions depends on the context, audience characteristics, user habits and care with which they’d been implemented. A UX designer rarely thinks about such solutions on terms of specific modules or buttons but rather goals, emotions, and effects.
There are many ways to achieve these goals. Products can be displayed as a grid or list, services can be either icons or large headings. What about the contact, then? It’s a key feature of many websites. Encouraging the reading to send a message is considered a small success that may often start a fruitful partnership. Today I’d like to tell you about pros and cons of two most popular design solutions for contact, their use cases, and effectiveness.
Please, don’t see this article as an instruction but rather a guide or a handful of useful tips. Like I mentioned before, it is all about context. Deciding on the best solution is easy when the choice is preceded by company and customer needs analysis.
Shall we begin?
What should reaching out to my brand feel like?
Every business owner should ask himself this question long before hiring a studio or agency to design its new identity. The contact page – like any other part of a web design project and everything that revolves around branding – should focus on communication. It is much more than just the message that in the ideal scenario is sent by the user who visits the page.
Communication works across different mediums and is everything that concerns us. While working on a contact page, the designer can trigger various emotions and feelings using different tools available at hand – much like a pianist pressing keys while playing. The right layout guides the eye, large headings draws attention, photographs underlight the brand’s character and partner logos increase trust and authenticity. The designer has plenty of tools in his belt.
Choosing the right tools depends on the type of brand and project. The more information you give to the designer, the better results he can achieve. It will also help him select the most effective contact solution for your business – email address or form?
Based on research we’ve read and other designers’ experience, the contact form seems to be a better solution. It offers more features and settings that give greater control over its appearance and functionality. It does not mean, however, that is it the best possible way to implement contact on a website – while working on different projects for our clients, I’ve discovered that some users prefer simple email address to even the best designed form.
Let’s take a close look at pros and cons of both solutions.
Choosing the right tools depends on the type of brand and project
Email –that’s it?
I think we’ve all seen a website that has an email address in its footer. Nothing special, just the usual „mailto” link. It’s an old solution that became a certain standard over the years. It was introduced long before contact forms that are usually based on newer, more advanced technology. Clicking the address opens an email app or a new window where the customer can write and send the message. From the user point of view it’s a rather pleasant experience but does it work just as well for the business owner? Not so much.
- simple mechanics: click & send
- works with all devices and browsers
- can be freely multiplied on the website, doesn’t take up much space
- is required by law
- visually rather unappealing, without additional emphasis and design can be missed
- requires opening a new app/window that extends the process and can discourage users who are in a hurry or clicked the link by mistake
- improper address construction may discourage users from reaching out
- adding a subject line is the only customization option
- can be used by bots to send spam (which is why many websites hide their email addresses)
Email address will not work miracles as the only contact form in all scenarios. It is the right solution for designers, artists, architects, musicians, and art galleries where the functionality and sales are less important than content. Without rigid navigation – as well as the flow that would redirect users to a more complex ways of communication – leaves plenty of space for photos, colors, project presentations, and sounds.
A single email address will definitely not work on business website where collecting leads is the matter of failure or success. Their relationship with clients and interaction scenarios are much more robust which demands complex, better suited design solutions.
Contact form is just a beginning
The form is a pretty ingenious invention that we’ve been using for decades. Surprised? No wonder since the interactive and eye-catching forms that we see on the way look very different from the paper documents that we love (or hate) filling out in various offices and government agencies. Despite their differences, both these things stem from the same set of assumptions and serve one goal: putting information in order.
A contact form may be a great lead source on a website but only when it is carefully designed with business needs and usability in mind (which is something I will definitely cover in a different article). A generic form based on a cheap ready-made plugin or low-quality code found somewhere on the internet will most likely be less efficient than tailored designed create for specific users and scenarios. There are reports of companies that noted a fewfold increase in leads after switching from email address to customized contact form.
Messages sent from the form can be automatically categorized which saves plenty of time and energy in case of business that collect hundreds of leads a day. This feature is practically impossible to implement for a simple email address in the footer.
- can be personalized and designed to fit the brand’s visual identity
- depending on the needs, it can be either general or very specific
- it can automatically order and categorize messages
- messages can be sent to more than one email address (useful for big businesses)
- it allows people to send an anonymous message (they don’t have to worry about their privacy)
- captcha prevents bots from sending spam
- may include additional information, f.e. user identifier
- some information can be configured as required (this increases the precision and scope of collected information)
- can be perceived as indirect and lacking character
- filling out even the most friendly contact form requires certain effort
- formatting text (bold, underline, attachment) can be difficult to implement
- received messages can be non-specific and lacking valuable details
- its effectiveness is tightly tied to quality of interaction (usability, user feedback)
- people are used to fancy contact forms and can be tired of time
- new law regulations require additional compliances at the end (extends the process)
A basic contact form is just a beginning – for further interaction between user and website as well as possible partnership after making contact with the client. Putting contact forms to practical use may prove very effective in the long run.
SmartYou – contact form made for measure
While working on a new website for an e-marketing agency SmartYou, we made a very intriguing discovery during conversation with the brand’s owner. Apparently many leads collected until then were disordered, lacking details or concerning projects that did lay in the scope of SmartYou’s work. It was a lightbulb moment to us – we saw a chance and took it. With a large stream of information available at hand (messages sent through the contact form), we could filter them and select message of the highest value to SmartYou.
We designed a custom estimation form that – through to intuitive buttons and select fields – allows users to quickly fill out all the important information about campaigns they want to launch and send a precise, very specific inquiry. In exchange, the user gets not just a personalized offer put together by the team of specialists at SmartYou, but also a free e-dictionary of common marketing terms.
A golden mean?
Our design for SmartYou is just one example of a robust, tailored contact form. It goes without saying that the volume of leads on their site would be lower if we went for just a simple email address in the footer. We made a good use of the tool to maximize the effects.
It doesn’t mean, however, that we gave up any additional contact options. At the bottom we put a smaller, less complex form that appears on every page as well as a standard email address. We didn’t want to forego any possible lead sources so we gave users many options – the estimate form, the contact form, and the email address in the footer – but presented them in such a way that they do not compete for their attention.
Cominding different methods of contact is today the most common and recommended solution. It is a golden mean between the simplicity of „mailto” links and great potential of contact forms. It satisfies different needs and fits many scenarios. However, we do not intend to copy in blindly for every project and discourage you from doing so as well – every project is unique and requires meticulous research. Most suitable methods of contact as well as their role in the overall flow of the site are decided during the wireframing and prototyping stage. Click here to learn more about this subject