When designing a user experience (UX), the single most important question to ask yourself is this:
How often will this feature be used?
The answer to that question has a profound impact on how you should design the accompanying form(s).
These are features that are used no more than once every three months. The fact that they are rarely used does not imply that they are unimportant. In fact, many extremely important accounting tasks are completed on an annual basis.
Rarely used features should have a corresponding UX that emphasizes hand-holding at the expense of efficiency.
The quintessential example is a wizard. A wizard is a process that contains multiple, discrete steps. Each step could be a different form or perhaps a different tab on a single form. The key is that they provide the user a lot of guidance as they work their way through the process.
These are features that are used once a month to once a week. These features may also benefit from the wizard treatment, but they won't require as much hand-holding for the user. In other words, keep the multi-step approach, but drop some of the instructional text.
Users will learn to ignore large blocks of text that they see every few weeks. If you want them to actually read the text, keep it short.
These features are used once a week to once a day. A multi-step wizard for this type of feature would be annoying to use.
Instead, restrict the process to a single form. Use short, descriptive captions for any user-supplied data. Optimize for the mouse, but make the form easy to navigate with the keyboard (use shortcut keys for all buttons and labels, use a sensible tab order, etc.).
These features are used one or more times every day.
Users will quickly become familiar with these features, so any hand-holding will be more hindrance than help.
Your UX for these features should provide intuitive mouse-free navigation. That includes:
A datasheet view or a continuous form with a tabular/grid layout are both good choices for these types of features.
These are processes that a user runs dozens or even hundreds of times per day.
These are your Pareto processes. Optimizing this 20% of your program will provide 80% of the benefits for your users. Take the extra time to get this right!
When designing a UX for processes with this level of frequency, you need to focus on maximizing efficiency for the user at the expense of nearly everything else.
- provide as many default values as possible
- count the minimum number of keystrokes necessary for the user to complete the process...find ways to lower that number
- implement context-sensitive tab ordering (e.g., can you skip the next control depending on the value of the current control?)
- optimize write speed at the database (users will notice that half-second delay)
A datasheet view is probably not a good choice for this type of feature. They simply lack the level of customization you can achieve with a different approach.