Ryan Kenney

Consultant, Experience Design

How to Create Interactive Forms in InDesign

Consultant, Experience Design

In a previous blog, I discussed creating interactive prototypes in InDesign, a program originally created for print publication.  I explored print layout tools that translate seamlessly to web projects as well as interactive features such as adding URLs, creating buttons with multiple states, and animating simple flyouts. In this blog I will explore how to create an interactive form in InDesign—an efficient way to create a prototype for usability testing. When beginning an interactive project in InDesign, I recommend customizing your workspace to include interactive features. Start by going up to the Window menu, then hover over ‘Workspace’ and select ‘Interactive for PDF’.   This will display several palettes for creating interactive elements. You will need the Buttons and Forms Palette.   InDesign has made it extremely simple to create various types of form fields.  The possibilities include Check Boxes, Combo Boxes (or a drop down), List Boxes, Radio Buttons, Signature Fields and Text Fields.   Let’s start with the simplest type of form field – a Text Field (or a field where the user can type free form text). First, create a rectangular box (where you would like your text to appear when the user types) then go to the Buttons and Forms Palette. Next, at the top of the Buttons and Forms palette, click on the dropdown next to the word “Type” at the top of the palette and select the last option, “Text Field”.   Having already created your first form field, uou will know it worked when a dashed red line appears around the rectangle to signal it is a form field. You can add a name under the type dropdown to keep track of your fields. Naming your fields will come in handy if you want to control the order the user tabs through the form fields, which we will cover later.   You can customize the Form Field under the “PDF options” at the bottom of the palette (they are collapsed by default so make sure you expand these options). Here you can add Description text, which will appear when the user hovers over the form field.     Other options include:
  • Printable – the field will print if you add a button with the “Print Form” action
  • Required – the field needs to be filled in order to submit the form
  • Password – this disguises the text the user types in the field with **** characters
  • Read Only – makes the field not editable
  • Multiline – allows the user to type in a response that is more than one line long
  • Scrollable – instead of having the text go to multiple lines, this option allows excess text to scroll
  • Font size – allows you to customize the size of the text in the entry field
To create a combo box (or a drop down where a user can select one option), start with a rectangular box similar to the one you used to create a form field. Return to the Forms and Buttons Palette with the rectangle selected, under the Type dropdown, select Combo Box (third option). Now you have created a dropdown but you need to create the options that will appear in the dropdown. Under PDF options, you will see the words List Items with an entry field, then a plus and a minus sign. To add your first option, type the desired text in the entry field then click the plus button. Your text will appear in the box below the input field once you are successful.     Now you have added your first option. Repeat these steps to add all desired options. Note that if you click on one option, it will become the default selection. For example, you can add a select “Select one” and make it the default selection.   There is one additional PDF option for a Combo Field:
  • Sort Items – If you check this check box, your options will appear in alphabetical order. If you uncheck this option, you can manually alter the order in which the options appear by clicking and dragging the option above or below other options
If you want to remove an option from your dropdown, click on the option then click the minus sign. Unfortunately, you cannot modify an option once you have created it. You have to remove it by following the steps above then recreate the option with your desired changes. Creating a List box (or a box with several options where a user can select one) is a similar process. Create a box, select it, and go the Forms and Buttons Palette. Then under the Type dropdown, select List Box. Now you need to add options the same way you did for your dropdown field – type the desired options into the List Items text field and click the plus icon.   This will create a scrollable box with all your options. The user selects an option by clicking in it.   To create a group of radio buttons that work together, create several small circles and place them next to your desired options.   Then select all the circles and go to the Forms and Buttons Palette. Under the type dropdown select “Radio Button”. Once you have completed this step, you will notice that a small dot appears in the center of the circles you created. The dots verify that you have created radio buttons.   Creating a set of checkboxes is just as easy as creating the group of radio buttons. Create boxes next to the corresponding options just like the radio button example (but boxes).   Select all the boxes, return to the Buttons and Forms Palette and select “Check box” from the Type dropdown.   You will know you have successfully created the checkboxes when a small checkbox appears in the center of each box. You can also create a signature field if you would like your users to electronically sign your form. Simply create a box similar to the simple text field you created. Select it and go to the Type dropdown, select Signature Field. One of the great form features in InDesign is that you do not have to recreate a field if you want to alter it. To change a field type, simply select the field(s), return to the type dropdown and change your selection. For example, if you decide you want users to make multiple selections instead of just one, select all the radio fields.   Then simply change the Type from Radio Button to Check Box in the dropdown. You will notice the dots in the center will change to check boxes.     To make your check boxes into boxes, InDesign has a great feature that will save you time. Take your direct selection tool (the white arrow) and select all the circles you would like to convert to boxes. Then go to the Object menu, hover over Convert Shape and select Rectangle.   Your circles will be concerted to square with the same dimension as your circles had.   You can also alter the order in which a user can tab through your form fields. This is where naming your fields comes in handy. To modify the tab order, go up to the Object menu, hover over Interactive and select Set Tab Order.   This will launch a lightbox with the titles of all the fields in your form. You can change the order of fields in two ways —by clicking and dragging an option into the desired position or by selecting the field then clicking the Move Up or Move Down button to change the order. If you create a field and then decide you no longer want it to be a field, simply select the field, go to the Object Menu, hover over the Interactive option, then finally click on Convert to Object. Now the field is returned back to a simple rectangle without interaction. InDesign also offers predesigned Buttons and form elements.  Find them by clicking the upper right corner of the Forms and Buttons Palette, and selecting “Sample Forms and Buttons.” Finally, you have to save your form as an interactive PDF in order for users to be able to interact with your form.  You will want to go to the File menu, then select Export and under format, select “Adobe PDF (Interactive)”. Under the options, next to Forms and Media be sure to select “Include All”. Once you are satisfied with your settings, click ‘OK’. Now open your PDF and test it to see if it works they way you want it to.   The PDF form will be fully interactive and allow you to observe how users interact with your form. Plus modifying your form is easy so you can quickly make changes based on the feedback you receive. So you can perfect your form before entering the development stage.