Online Census 2011

It is the 21st full national census of the population and this year it is fully available online! So, for those still trying to find the time to complete the questionnaire, do it online, it is (relatively) painless. Being a lawful citizen I thought I would fill out my family census online and keep a few notes about the experience at the same time. Firstly let me say that I don't envy the task of putting the 2011 census online:

  • Every question has to be understood by every individual in the country
  • It is only completed every 10 years
  • The data gathered is used to help plan and fund services for your community - services like transport, education and health
  • Completing it is mandated by law!

No pressure then! All in all this is a good piece of work and the form is relatively easy to complete, however there is room for improvement:

1. Keep the user informed throughout the process

The Census is very long and if your family is like mine (2 adults and 2 children) you will soon realise that filling it in is quite an undertaking. Good practice dictates that a form of any length should give clear guidelines at the beginning of the process to inform the user approximately how long the form will take and what information will be needed to complete it.

2. Make help easily accessible and helpful!

It might sound strange to have a guideline that says make your help helpful but you would be surprised how often ‘help’ is far from helpful on the census form and could certainly be sharpened up. The homepage of the 2011 Census doesn’t contain any explicit guidelines and the help is hidden away on additional pages.  The primary call to action ‘Click to fill it in’ is large but isn’t particularly well considered. The page is predominately 1 colour and the call to action shares this colour albeit with a very subtle orange border. This could be easily improved by using a more dominant colour and by using a more explicit label e.g. ‘fill in the Census now’ 

3. Use succinct and clear labels rather than text-heavy instructions

We find that users are keen to fill forms in with the minimum of fuss and time. One way to facilitate this is to design the forms with the following principles in mind:

  • Use succinct and clear labels rather than text-heavy instructions
  • Don’t ask ambiguous questions
  • Position the labels so that they’re clearly associated with the relevant fields
  • Organise the form so there’s a logical progression from top to bottom
  • Show which fields are required and which are optional (e.g. by displaying an asterisk next to required fields and explain what the asterisk means)

I appreciate that the Census has to gather a lot of disparate information but some of the questions are pretty ambiguous. E.g. ‘what is your main language’ Does this mean: a) Your birth tongue? b) Your preferred language? c)  The language you use the most? Clicking on the help text presents the user with a long and fairly ambiguous description which I don’t think is particularly helpful  I still have a few more questions to finish so I had better get back and finish them off...

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