Design forms - Digital Standards

Design best practice online forms. Includes the Victorian Government recommendations and standards that must be met.

Before you begin

What are online forms?

Online forms are used to streamline and improve the user experience when transacting with government. A well-designed form replaces time consuming and complicated paper processes

While designers and developers create forms, it’s important everyone involved in their creation understands how to apply good form design. This will help us deliver a better user experience and ultimately, better online products or services.

Good form design needs careful thought. It’s less straightforward than it first appears.

Why design useful and accessible forms?

Improve the user experience

Nobody wants to spend time filling out a form. We have an opportunity to make the form completion process as fast and as simple as we can. This also means back-office staff will do less data entry as a result of your online forms.

Create accessible forms for everyone

People with disability - people with low or no vision, people with low literacy, the elderly and people with low levels of digital literacy are important people to consider when designing government services. Making forms accessible to everyone will ensure the government can meet the needs of everyone. Refer to the How-to Guide: How to make websites and content accessible.

Not everyone has access to digital

Some groups in society (such as aged, low socio-economic groups etc.) won't have access to digital content (either due to lack of access to technology, or lack of skills to do so, or both), and you’ll need to offer a non-digital way to offer the service. For example, you can still get a 'Working with Children Check' paper form even though most registrations are now done digitally.

What does the Victorian Government recommend?

Build all forms with a digital first approach. Avoid PDF or word document forms.

What standards must be met?

Follow the online forms standard

This guide presents the standard for designing online forms — or digital services and transactions — so your resulting forms are highly usable and accessible. 

You must follow the steps at the bottom of this page.


Comply with the Privacy and Data Protection Act 2014. Refer to the How-to guide, How to manage security, and standards on the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner website.

You must include form validation in your form

Form validation checks to make sure a user has filled out all required fields of a form. For example: If the name field is blank, take the user back to the form and display an error message. Form validation can be simple or complex. Server side validation should test from the server side, so the form checks all content on submission.

Payment card industry (PCI) security standards

The Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council set up the PCI security standards to protect cardholder data. These global standards govern all merchants and organisations that store, process or transmit this data. The major payment card brands, for example, Visa, enforce compliance.


Apply Brand Victoria. Refer to the How-to guide: How to apply Brand Victoria.


Comply with the Privacy and Data Protection Act 2014, and only collect information you’re legally entitled to collect. You’ll need to craft and publish a privacy ‘collection notice’ (refer to the How-to guide, How to manage privacy or the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner website.)

If your digital presence collects personal information, then the physical location of the servers where it’s stored must have the same level of legal protection for private data as we offer citizens in Victoria.


Comply with the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Version 2.0 AA standard.

If your audience is primarily people with a disability (for example, National Disability Insurance Scheme clients), your site must pass the AAA standard.

Refer to Make content accessible.

Manage public records

The Public Record Office Victoria (PROV) (under Section 12 of the Public Records Act 1973) sets the standards for managing the public records your department or agency create. Always check with your department’s or agency’s records or information management specialist first for the approach to compliance.

Refer to How to manage online records for more information or the PROV website.


All e-payment procedures must adhere to the Standing Directions (Victoria’s Minister of Finance) for money taken by credit card, or other electronic media.

Getting it approved

New or redeveloped forms need to be approved by your Department’s Digital Management Committee or equivalent.

What makes a good form

Forms make most people cringe.

So what is it that makes a form painful? Take a moment to reflect on what you don’t like about, say, doing your tax return.

Tax forms are often a great illustration of what aspects of a form’s design makes it painful. They:

  • are confusing
  • are long
  • are burdensome and put a lot of responsibility on the form-filer
  • rarely 'just work'

Therefore, if a form’s characteristics are the opposite of these, it should be painless. This gives us the 4 Cs of a good form:

  • clear
  • concise
  • clever
  • cooperative

Every part of this standard delivers at least one of these characteristics. The 4 Cs should also be your guide for the parts of a form’s design that aren’t dealt with here.

For more information on the 4 Cs, including examples, visit the What makes a good form page - Formulate website.

Step into the form-filler's shoes

To apply the 4 Cs, you need to know what would be 'clear', 'concise', 'clever' and 'cooperative' for the form-filler. This means you need to put yourself into their shoes.

You will do this best if you work from a base of quality data rather than anecdote, so conduct as much careful research with the target audience as you can. You will find that form-fillers are always a diverse group, in terms of:

  • background
  • language skills
  • computer literacy
  • physical ability
  • familiarity with the subject matter
  • availability
  • priorities
  • preferences

18.4% of Victorians have some kind of disability, with approximately 88,000 Victorians having a disability that profoundly or severely impacts on their life. For more information, visit Disability, Australia on the Australian Bureau of Statistics website.

Taking another perspective, almost 170,000 Victorians were born in India, and another almost 170,000 were born in China.

In fact, about 40% of Victorians were born outside Australia. For more information, visit the 2016 Census report on the Australian Bureau of Statistics website.

Given this diversity, your motto should always be 'I am not the form-filler'.

The online forms design standard

This guide presents the standard for designing online forms — or digital services and transactions — so your resulting forms are highly usable and accessible.

Best practice form examples:

The guide is divided into 4 main sections. Every form, no matter what the subject matter or design, consists of 4 ‘layers’.

We have a page dedicated to each of the steps below. You can find these pages by clicking on the hyperlink on each of the steps below or in the menu on the right hand side of this page.

Step 1: questions and their corresponding answer options

Step 2: the order of and relationship between questions

Step 3: the presentation of the Q&A and flow on the page or screen

Step 4: everything that happens around the form but impacts on data collection overall

Reviewed 27 February 2020

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