Response to graphic design in data INPUT
Some of the best work on data input has been done by Patricia Wright (of the Applied Psychology Unit, Medical Research Council, Cambridge UK, now at Cardiff) and by Jeremy Wyatt http://www.ihs.ox.ac.uk/csm/jwpub.html .
Here are some of my opinions:
Think hard about how to minimize the amount of information you elicit; users are more likely to abandon a long, snoopy, instrusive set of questions. For example, don't turn your questionnaire into a gratuitous set of probes for market research on your innocent respondents.
Think hard about protecting the integrity and privacy of the information you elicit; why should the user trust you at all?
How are you going to minimize entry errors? Discover the types of entry errors that are made, and then redesign to fix them. Regard entry errors as your fault (even if they aren't) and design to fix them.
For a good model of transactions-based questions, order a book from amazon.com and watch how they navigate you through a quite long series of steps.
On design, find something that works and is already successful--and see what they do. No need to get it original, just get it right. Surely, in practice at least, this is a solved problem. Find a good proven solution and use it.
The instructions, questions, and user responses are the important matters here; minimize everything else, especially heavy-handed design structure (arrows, frames, boxes, highlighting). For example, very light but clear boxes or fields for data entry.
Avoid an over-produced, designed, slick look; the questionnaire form is a workaday straight-forward document. Your design model should be exactly that: a workaday, straight-forward document.
Allow for review, checking, and confirmation of answers by users before they commit (although this is probably a more complicated matter than a simple rule can handle).
Error messages to the user should not be rude, abrupt, or perpetuate the confusion. That is, they should probably not be written by computer programmers.
See Envisioning Information, chapter 3 on layering and separation, particularly the material on de-gridding. Also in the Ask E.T. section here, see, of course, the discussion of the butterfly ballot in Florida in November 2000.
-- Edward Tufte