Forms, Universality, and Convenience: 12 December 2012

One of the central design challenges in the creation of digital cataloging systems is the form, itself. If the schema or structure of how data should be captured and preserved is the “theory”, then the form is the “praxis.” The form rests on notions of universality and convenience with both ideas traditionally thought of as benefiting the recipient of the form.

Mike Esbester’s visual analysis of British tax forms produced by the Board of Inland Revenue in the 19th and early 20th centuries highlights many of these assumptions in early form designs. For the Board, the goal was to collect legitimate answers and ultimately assess payments owed. In service of that goal, it is interesting to note that complexity of language, grammatical person, color, and typography were areas of experimentation.