What can you ask on a form?

There is a science, or at least there is a lot of research on how to design forms – both in their appearance and in their content. Luke Wroblewski’s Web Form Design: Filling in the Blanks, published in 2008, is a classic. Should you have less time, Nick Babich’s overview is a great summary. As a job seeker, I have been applying for UX jobs – that is, I am filling out application forms for tech companies that are at a stage of UX maturity that they realize the need for a UX researcher. I am not kidding myself that the application process is going to be fun, but the job itself makes me hopeful that it would not be painful, or so frustrating that I would abandon the job application process.

And yet. I am admitting that I have decided not to apply for certain jobs just because filling out the form was so painful. Forms that did not breathe weed out people with ADHD and/or dyslexia, a not-so-subtle form of discrimination. Again, others ask questions that are unnecessary from the perspective of employment. One of the golden rules of form design is to only ask essential questions. I guess job seekers are a captive audience, they do not have much of a choice to say that HR should mind their own business. An obvious example is the gender of the applicant. While it is possible there is a reason for this curiosity, I would like to know what that reason is. For one, I would understand the culture of the company better, for two, I would not see it as much of a one-sided conversation as it actually is, but unnecessarily so.

I have gotten used to the gender question. More woke companies offer more than two options, or allow for choosing a “I prefer not to answer”. But then again, if they are fine with some people not answering, why ask? And what does it say about me if I decline to answer? That I am progressive? Or a pain in the butt? Or I haven’t decided yet? Does that make me a more or less desirable candidate? While I am aware of the difference between gender and sex, for the majority of us, our chosen/assigned gender is visible and audible on the phone. Who are we kidding?

So, my so-far-unidentified rule with these questions has been that if a question can be asked face-to-face without feeling weird, it is OK on a form. but today I had to do a double-take when seeing this:

question asking applicants about their sexual orientation

I am proposing a guideline here: if you can ask that question from a stranger without feeling awkward, you are ok to use that question on a form. But if it feels you are crossing a line, don’t ask it By the way, these questions are from Twillio’s website, and I honestly expected a higher level of maturity from you.

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