Acrobat PDF Forms: Part 1 of 16
An illustrated, step-by-step introduction

By Ted Padova

Why Forms?

Forms use:

Almost all purchases of goods and services require some kind of directly or indirectly related forms completion. Using a credit card for purchasing goods requires you to have at least filled out a form to acquire the credit card. E-commerce is continuing to grow at quantum leaps and all e-commerce sites require forms completion. Take a simple example of applying for a fishing license in the US. A form is needed for:

  • The original application

  • A form is used to return your acceptance/rejection from the Department of Fish and Game

  • A form is used to issue the license

  • A form is used to issue citations of infraction

  • A form is used for renewal of the application each season

Just about anything you can think of requires filling out a form at one time or another. And, just about any company or organization using a form, needs to get the form data onto digital media.

Forms and Costs

Costs derived in using forms:
Take an example of a computer book author. When a publication is complete and sales begin, the pub-lishing house returns a monthly statement to the author on the sales volume of a given book. These sales reports often include royalty amounts to be distributed to the author. A form is used to detail the sales —foreign and domestic, amounts held for reserves, and royalty amounts to be received at a later date. Assuming a large publishing house has 5,000 titles currently selling, the cost of distribution of forms for each title include:

  • Envelopes to mail the form at 9x12 inches and printed with publisher address -- .03

  • Photocopies or laser prints to be distributed (one copy for author, one for publisher) -- .06

  • Postage to mail the form (actual cost of envelopes I have received) -- .55

  • Total costs per each form to be mailed -- .64

  • Monthly cost for the publisher to distribute 5,000 forms (5,000 X .64) -- $3,200.00

  • Costs per year for 5,000 titles -- $38,400.00

  • 5 year costs -- $192,000.00

  • 10 year costs -- $384,000.00

Add all the publishers and all the authors and the number of forms to be distributed monthly and the numbers easily rise to multi-millions of dollars.

Bottom line: Analog form distribution is costly and inefficient.

The Buying Public

Forms for transactions:

One of the largest growing uses of forms is found with e-commerce and online forms. For anyone designing forms for commercial use in completing transactions, it first helps to understand a little bit about the economy and psycho/social habits of the buying public. Then move to another level and try to comprehend the sophistication of the individual targeted for the purchas-es. In the US, the largest purchasers of goods and services is the boomers. In the year 2000, this population is aged between 40 and 60. The buying behavior of this group has been:

  • They never saved

  • They spend everything they earn

  • They need to continue working past 65 because they don't have enough saved to retire

Short range projections indicate the 3percent unemployment rate will continue past the year 2020. Between now and then, the boomers will inherit over 12 trillion dollars. This money will be recycled back into the economy because they'll be certain to follow the same habits —the boomers won't save it and they'll spend it all.

Computer skills of the boomers

Unless there are products targeted at specific age groups, the largest purchasing group will continue for the next two decades to be the boomers. If we assume online pur-chasing will grow and more transactions will be complet-ed through e-commerce, then forms accessibility and completion needs to be targeted at this population —after all, they're going to spend over 12 trillion dollars within the next 20 years.

Computer skills of this population are generally less astute than the average 14 year old child in the US. Online home connections are inexpensive and slow. The population is generally impatient and they don't have the technical expertise to resolve complex configuration prob-lems. They want it simple, fast and painless.

Form Requirements

Regardless of whether forms are created for transactions or information archiving, they all need to be designed with:

  • Ease of completion - this includes analog forms as well as online electronic forms.

  • Precision: in the form architecture, the smart forms need to be designed to prevent as much user error as possible.

  • A need for retrieval capability: Since the data on most analog forms eventually needs to be elec-tronically catalogued, it only makes sense to have as many original forms as possible submitted electronically.

Why Acrobat for Online Forms?

Acrobat PDF Forms

Search around the Web for only a few minutes and you'll find a site containing a form. Forms you see on Web pages are HTML based and the data is collected by a CGI (Common gateway Interface) at the Web server.

Acrobat forms can be downloaded from a server to a remote computer and saved for later use. You can complete an Acrobat form and submit the form data to a Web server in a few ways - either as a file format unique to Acrobat called FDF (Forms Data Format) or in HTML format.

One disadvantage of having an HTML form is it requires an uninterrupted connection between the user and the server hosting the form. According to Shane Hughes, CEO of Pyxis Consulting, "Today, up to 95 percent of users that start a transaction on the Web fail to complete it."1 This figure sounds staggering, however it stands to reason many people pass a site when first encountering a connection problem.

1 Reported by Tony McKinley in an e-paper on Adobe's Web site at


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