1530.0 - ABS Forms Design Standards Manual, 2010  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 25/01/2010  First Issue
   Page tools: Print Print Page Print all pages in this productPrint All  
Contents >> Electronic Forms >> Common Standards to all Electronic Forms


While aspects of these standards will be of interest to those outside the ABS, they were developed for internal use. As such, some information contained in these standards will not be applicable to an external audience. ABS staff should refer to the Corporate Manuals database for the most recent version of these documents, as some details (names, phone numbers etc.) have been removed from the online version.



This section identifies a number of basic standards and elements common to all electronic forms.
Standard components

All electronic forms should offer at least the same level of help, information and instructions as their paper equivalent. Electronic forms should also be as visually similar to their paper equivalents as possible. There are several exceptions to this, namely, font and font size, use of colour and use of separate worksheets for different sections, front of form, comments etc.

While the presentation of these components may vary slightly, conceptually these are:
  • an ABS 'Front of Form' that includes business name, address and contact details as well as the other standard ABS 'Front of Form' elements;
  • 'Please read this first' completion and other instructions section;
  • reporting instructions, notes, help, includes and excludes;
  • a final general comments box; and
  • a time taken question.
In addition, electronic forms should also include:
  • the standard (for any particular form type) 'How to use this form' section in the form itself, including keyboard shortcuts; and
  • a 'How to submit this form' section at the end of the form regarding security, saving and submitting to the ABS.
  • a separate instruction booklet, usually in pdf format.
For long forms (five or more separate response sheets) the following are recommended:
  • a 'Contents' page at the beginning of the form, outlining the location of the sections, sub sections and primary questions.
  • space for comments at the bottom of each sheet. Due to the navigation in electronic forms, it is more convenient (less burdensome) for the respondent to comment as they move through the form. Electronic forms enable frequent commenting because page space is not an issue.

Wording and language

In keeping with the principle that electronic forms are based on paper ones, all content and associated (paper) form standards should remain the same or match as closely as possible within the constraints of Excel. This includes the use of lines and boxes, the presentation of notes with questions, formatting and overall question wording.
Screen resolution

Forms are designed to fit in a maximised 800x600 window on a 15" monitor running at 24m colours, with the width of the body of the form extending over the full width of an 800x600 screen.

The only colours currently used are two shades of grey, plus black and white.

Monitor settings and individual colour perception both affect the way the respondent views colour on their PC screen. In line with the principle that e-forms should be kept simple and designed with the least sophisticated system in mind, a monochrome colour scheme should work for any design.

The colour specification for all electronic forms is therefore:
  • they are designed to use 24 bit colour; and
  • when setting the colours in custom colour palettes, the correct colours are Grey (222) and Light Grey (244).
  • colours can be set by going to <Tools> then <Options> and clicking on the "Color" tab. You need to select one of the colours in the palette and then select "Modify", as shown in Diagram 2.1. Choose the "Custom" tab and type in "222" or "244" to all three components of the colour model, as shown in Diagram 2.2.

Diagram 2.1

Diagram 2.2

Coloured forms are currently under consideration with the aim of providing specifications that will allow matching to the paper form equivalent. As with paper forms, it is most important to have a strong contrast between the background and notes colours and the text. The background colour should not be highly saturated in order to provide good contrast with text.

'True Type' Arial is used throughout all electronic forms. Sizes are based on those for paper forms:
  • 24 point bold for Title of Collection;
  • 18 point bold for Sub-title of Collection;
  • 14 point bold for Section headings, due date and question numbers;
  • 12 point bold for Questions;
  • 12 point plain for Front of Form and Sub-questions; and
  • 10 point plain for notes, includes/excludes and other explanatory text.
For Multi-Unit Excel forms it is acceptable to use a smaller font for the column headings in order to keep the spreadsheet to a reasonable size.

While Arial is the only acceptable font for Excel forms, Arial, Verdana and MS Sans Serif are the order of preference for Web forms.

For text on the form that is not a question or explanation for the respondent, such as office use codes, it is best to differentiate the text. On paper forms, the sans serif font Verdana is used to contrast with the serif font Times. For Excel and Web forms use Times for office codes.

Previous PageNext Page