Be Good Not Bad by Brian Warren

5 July 2006

Wufoo

You’re thinking “Wuhoo now?”

Yeah, it’s a silly name. Then again we’ve been seeing a lot of that lately. Netvibes, Odeo, Ning, Soonr, and meebo are just a few among many “Web 2.0” sorts of companies with weird names. It’s practically a barrier of entry. Then again, you don’t have to be tagged with “Web 2.0” to have a weird name. Google isn’t particularly a normal name. We just think it is because we use it as a verb.

But I’m here to talk about Wufoo. I’ve been using Wufoo for a week or so now in beta, and I’ve gotten a good chance to really play around with it. Oddly enough, Wufoo has impressed me more than any web app has in a long time. Here’s why…

Wufoo Beta

First the “What”

Wufoo is a web-based application that helps you build forms. The interface is quite simple at first glance. You start adding fields right off the bat. Name here, Address there, email address, phone number, dropdown lists, checkboxes, date fields. It’s actually quite fun. The snappy interface makes this a cinch.

Wufoo gives you code to put on your site, or they’ll host it on theirs. The code is just a simple iframe that calls the form from their site. Alternatively you can just save the XHTML/CSS to plug into your own form processor.

And the “Why”

So, let’s assume you’re a small company and you want a form on your site where people can request more information to be sent to them. So, you build the form in Wufoo, with name, address, email, and maybe a checkbox or two. This takes all of 5 minutes. Then you slap the code into your site and customers start filling it out and clicking submit. You can get these requests emailed to you, but you can imagine that’s a bit on the cumbersome side, especially if you end up being quite popular. Wufoo stores the results of each submission, and you can export those results as CSV or Excel files.

Let me tell you how much work this saves me. I’m not a fancy programmer. I know enough PHP to get by and be rather productive, but I’m no guru. I’m a design guru, and I wield XHTML and CSS as my weapons. Non-designer/programmer readers, you don’t need to know what all this means. Focus on the part where I say that this saves me work. Building forms can be tricky. I’ve done it many times. The part that always gets me is doing the error checking – making sure that all the parts of the form that are required are filled in with the right kinds of info. And then you have to make sure the form is impervious to spammers who write scripts to hammer your form relentlessly while you sleep at night. Yuck.

So, at my office, we have a few uses for web forms. The “More Info” form mentioned above is an obvious one. We also have a form that people fill out if they’re interested in working for us. Using Wufoo for this one would be fantastic, since it’s a rather lengthy form. Having the results of these would be super-handy to have exported as an Excel file to track applicants.

Wufoo also presents some added benefits in agility. If you decide you need to add or remove fields in the form, it doesn’t require any programmers, just log in and modify the form. The changes show up on your site immediately. I’m constantly looking for ways to remove myself from the equation and give the power to the people who actually use the stuff on a regular basis.

Enough already

Yeah yeah, it’s one long pitch for Wufoo. Who cares, right? Well, I do. This made a big difference to me, so I thought I’d share. And it shows how things evolve for me as a designer. I used to have to do all this myself, and in some respects, fought to keep control of certain parts of site development. In the end, it’s much easier, if you have the right tools, to give control back and let the pros deal with all the support. And lastly, the whole reason I find this web app worthwhile is Wufoo fills a genuine need for designers. Just about every site I’ve ever developed has required building some kind of form. I’m sure for some of my future clients, they won’t want their form hosted by Wufoo, and I’ll be stuck doing at least some of the programming. For others, hopefully the majority, I won’t have to be a programmer, and I can stick to designing.