You’ve got your portfolio site almost finished and it’s time to tackle that task you’ve been putting off: the contact form. Some designers love forms, but many of us find them boring and annoying and would rather spend our day creating anything else.
One of the most difficult parts of this task is simply deciding what fields and questions to place in your contact form. What information should you be gathering from potential clients? Today we’ll answer that question by looking at three different common solutions.
The Kitchen Sink
The first approach that designers often take is to gather as much information as possible from potential clients at the very first point of contact. To see how this works, take a look at Chris Godby’s form below.
To contact Godby about a potential project, you need to give your name, email and phone number, which are all pretty typical fields. Next he throws in the service required, your current site, the due date, the budget and a large field for project details that encourages lots and lots of information.
There are several benefits to the kitchen sink approach. Right off the bat, it can serve to weed out serious potentials from the people who will waste your time. If you’re interested in hiring Godby, you’ll take one look at this form and likely move on if you really don’t have a solid grasp of your project.
We’ve all received plenty of emails with little to no direction before and it can be time consuming to launch a back and forth conversation to gather everything you need, even to just make the up front website. My particular favorite question is “I need a website, how much will it cost?”, which is like asking how much it costs to buy a car; you simply need more information before you can answer it.
When Godby receives an email though, he has a good idea of what kind of site the person currently has, what kind of budget they’re working with and the date they expect to have the work completed by. This puts Chris in an awesome position to begin negotiations with the potential client. In truth, he’s likely saved himself an average of three to four back and forth messages that it can take to gather this information.
How Much Is Too Much?
The downside to all of this of course is that this form seems like a lot of work and could actually be quite intimidating to a potential client who really needs someone to help them figure out exactly what they need.
As designers, it’s hard for us to imagine not knowing the scope of our own project so we tend to look down on clients for such blunders. However, if we look elsewhere we find ourselves in the same position.
I’m currently planning a European vacation with my wife and as a home grown U.S. country boy I was clueless as to where I wanted to go, what I wanted to see and how long I wanted to take. I called a travel agent and said pretty much exactly that and was thrilled when she took the time to ask me a few questions and make some great suggestions. Designers can learn a thing or two from travel agents.
My point is, sometimes clients feel exactly like I did about planning such a big trip and therefore simply aren’t ready to fill out Godby’s form. They might be perfectly ready to take on the project and spend the required budget, but just need some personal guidance from a real human.
It’s difficult to know where that line is between not having asking for enough information and asking for too much. My best advice is, if this is your own site, just make a decision and go for it. Don’t feel like you have to get it right on the first shot, you can always go back and modify anything that isn’t working. This is a solid place is implement some A/B testing to see which form lands you more work.
If you want to gather plenty of information from your client but aren’t quite sure if the form above is a little too much, here’s a slightly briefer approach from Small Fortune that still has quite a few fields but looks a little less intimidating.
Just the Basics
The kitchen sink approach can be thorough and helpful to both parties, but many designers simply think it’s too much to just get the chain of communication going. It’s definitely a lot more common to see a barebones approach on designer portfolios that contains a few fields.
The following form from Karmon French perfectly demonstrates this technique.
Here the designer has chosen to gather very little information directly, even the phone number field has been ditched in favor of pure email communication. Notice that the “Details” field actually encourages the same kind of information used in the kitchen sink approach above, this information simply hasn’t been spread out and given individual attention like before.
As always, there are both pros and cons to this approach. For starters, this form is infinitely less intimidating. This page makes the designer feel very approachable, like you can shoot off a quick message just to ask a question and get some information.
The downside is of course that, since budget, due date and project type aren’t explicit fields, there’s a high chance that the user won’t mention one or more of these, resulting in more effort on the designer’s part to piece together the puzzle of this potential project.
Further, since the form does seem so much more friendly, its likely to get a lot more submissions from folks that turn out to be not all that serious about hiring a real designer to take on a paying job. People simply love to fill these forms out and offer exposure, the promise of lots of work down the line and all manner of other nonsense that equates to them wanting you to build a free site.
As further inspiration, here’s another form from Creative Branding using the same simple approach.
Who Needs a Form!?
Contact forms are awesome tools that serve to streamline the initial communication process. They allow designers to gather all the right information in a quick and easy way and even help weed out non-serious clients.
That being said, some designers ditch them altogether! Our last possible approach then is to scrap the idea of a form completely in favor of a simple email link for interested parties to contact you.
This approach can be executed in any number of ways. In addition to a direct email link, Thomas Putt even throws out his cell phone number for all to see!
A much more common technique is to provide an email link along with various social networks where you can be contacted. Making social connections can serve to provide lasting contact that leads to work down the road.
Is This a Bad Idea?
As I just mentioned, forms have a ton of benefits that are hard to overlook. In addition, email links have several downsides. Though you can take some steps to help prevent it, be ready for lots of spam. You pretty much have no way to filter what’s coming through that communication pipeline or to ensure that actual interested parties provide you with any of the information that you need.
I would definitely recommend at least a basic form over a plain old email link, but the truth is that tons of designers take this route and find plenty of success with it. If you don’t want to build a form, skipping the step entirely won’t result in the end of the world.
To sum up, the most typical example of a designer portfolio contact form is the basic approach of only including three or four fields. It’s simple, friendly and does a great job of getting the communication started. However, some designers go much further and provide a large, detailed form for interested parties to fill out. Despite the downfall of being a little intimidating, this approach does arm you with all the important information you need to appeal to the client’s needs and land the job. Finally, there are several who would argue for ditching the contact form altogether in favor of simple email and social links that provide an open-ended way for visitors to contact you.
Leave a comment below and let us know which approach you think is the best. What fields are present on your contact form and how would you improve it if you were to build it again?