Marking required fields on desktop UIs?

30 Oct 2006 - 6:14pm
7 years ago
11 replies
2801 reads
DrWex
2006

Greetings

I am having trouble determining if there is a standard or best
practice for marking which fields are required on a desktop
application form. This is a fairly standard Windows UI with lots of
dialogs. Each dialog has some mandatory and some optional fields, and
which are which tends to change with the data, system parameters, etc.

Therefore, I want to have some visual treatment so users can know at a
glance what fields are mandatory. On the Web there is a convention to
mark required fields with asterisks (*) but this convention does not
seem to have been back-ported to desktop UIs.

Anyone have any pointers or suggestions?

--
--Alan Wexelblat

Comments

31 Oct 2006 - 5:51am
dszuc
2005

Hi Alex:

Perhaps not a standard but *changing the background colour of the field*
that is mandatory. For example, yellow. This paired with the use of an
asterix may work well.

This may also be useful:
http://www.formsthatwork.com/questionsanswers/asterisk.asp

Rgds,

Daniel Szuc
Principal Usability Consultant
Apogee Usability Asia Ltd
www.apogeehk.com
'Usability in Asia'

-----Original Message-----
From: discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com
[mailto:discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com] On Behalf Of Alan
Wexelblat
Sent: Tuesday, October 31, 2006 7:15 AM
To: discuss-interactiondesigners.com at lists.interactiondesigners.com
Subject: [IxDA Discuss] Marking required fields on desktop UIs?

[Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted material.]

Greetings

I am having trouble determining if there is a standard or best practice for
marking which fields are required on a desktop application form. This is a
fairly standard Windows UI with lots of dialogs. Each dialog has some
mandatory and some optional fields, and which are which tends to change with
the data, system parameters, etc.

Therefore, I want to have some visual treatment so users can know at a
glance what fields are mandatory. On the Web there is a convention to mark
required fields with asterisks (*) but this convention does not seem to have
been back-ported to desktop UIs.

Anyone have any pointers or suggestions?

--
--Alan Wexelblat
________________________________________________________________
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31 Oct 2006 - 9:29am
DrWex
2006

Yeah, I've been trying to avoid using a marking that is purely color,
based on the fact that color isn't a great primary cue.

As we're on the Windows desktop we also have to contend with the
variety of "themes" that Windows permits users to layer over
application UIs. It's not clear from the development desk that a
color change would even be visible on some users' desktops.

Thanks for the pointer - that appears to be a Web-oriented answer. I
think the convention on the Web is pretty clear.

--Alan

On 10/31/06, Daniel Szuc <dszuc at apogeehk.com> wrote:
>
> Hi Alex:
>
> Perhaps not a standard but *changing the background colour of the field*
> that is mandatory. For example, yellow. This paired with the use of an
> asterix may work well.
>
> This may also be useful:
> http://www.formsthatwork.com/questionsanswers/asterisk.asp
>
> Rgds,
>
> Daniel Szuc
> Principal Usability Consultant
> Apogee Usability Asia Ltd
> www.apogeehk.com
> 'Usability in Asia'

31 Oct 2006 - 11:44am
Barbara Ballard
2005

I find this question so very interesting because I recall, back in
1996 or so, doing Windows design and having required fields marked
with asterisks.

On 10/30/06, Alan Wexelblat <awexelblat at gmail.com> wrote:
>
> Therefore, I want to have some visual treatment so users can know at a
> glance what fields are mandatory. On the Web there is a convention to
> mark required fields with asterisks (*) but this convention does not
> seem to have been back-ported to desktop UIs.
>

--
Barbara Ballard
barbara at littlespringsdesign.com 1-785-550-3650

31 Oct 2006 - 11:58am
Mark Canlas
2003

Sure, I can think of one. It's more behavioral than visual though...
Mandatory fields that need to be filled out just won't let you proceed to
the next screen. If you try to continue (like pressing enter on the password
screen without giving a password), that yellow tooltip/balloon pops up (with
an auditory warning), reminding you that a password is necessary. Also, for
wizards, the next button is usually grayed out until all of the required
text fields have something in them. Type at least one letter/number, then
the button un-disables itself.

-Mark

> I am having trouble determining if there is a standard or best
> practice for marking which fields are required on a desktop
> application form. This is a fairly standard Windows UI with lots of
> dialogs. Each dialog has some mandatory and some optional fields, and
> which are which tends to change with the data, system parameters, etc.
>
> Therefore, I want to have some visual treatment so users can know at a
> glance what fields are mandatory. On the Web there is a convention to
> mark required fields with asterisks (*) but this convention does not
> seem to have been back-ported to desktop UIs.

31 Oct 2006 - 1:52pm
DrWex
2006

On 10/31/06, Mark Canlas <mark at htmlism.com> wrote:
> Mandatory fields that need to be filled out just won't let you proceed to
> the next screen. If you try to continue (like pressing enter on the password
> screen without giving a password), that yellow tooltip/balloon pops up (with
> an auditory warning), reminding you that a password is necessary. Also, for
> wizards, the next button is usually grayed out until all of the required
> text fields have something in them. Type at least one letter/number, then
> the button un-disables itself.

Yes, we already do these things. The problem is that the application
contains a large number of forms, many of which have dozens of
controls. I don't think it's a good usability plan to ask users to
memorize or guess which fields then need to frob to make the "save"
button light up.

I agree that we ought not to let users save incomplete (and therefore
error-producing) entries. But we need some kind of visual guide as
well.

--Alan

1 Nov 2006 - 2:40am
stauciuc
2006

So the issue is not validation, but the initial visual clues to quickly
distinguish between mandatory and non-mandatory fields.
I think if there had been a desktop UI 'standard' more established than
asterisks, someone would have mentioned it by now. Personally, I see nothing
wrong with asterisks and nothing else more familiar comes to my mind.
Ofcourse, we could try some other visual clues, like a bold face for labels,
for instance. But that's just an idea, not a standard...

Sebi <http://www.sergiutauciuc.ro/en/>

On 10/31/06, Alan Wexelblat <awexelblat at gmail.com> wrote:
>
> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted
> material.]
>
> On 10/31/06, Mark Canlas <mark at htmlism.com> wrote:
> > Mandatory fields that need to be filled out just won't let you proceed
> to
> > the next screen. If you try to continue (like pressing enter on the
> password
> > screen without giving a password), that yellow tooltip/balloon pops up
> (with
> > an auditory warning), reminding you that a password is necessary. Also,
> for
> > wizards, the next button is usually grayed out until all of the required
> > text fields have something in them. Type at least one letter/number,
> then
> > the button un-disables itself.
>
> Yes, we already do these things. The problem is that the application
> contains a large number of forms, many of which have dozens of
> controls. I don't think it's a good usability plan to ask users to
> memorize or guess which fields then need to frob to make the "save"
> button light up.
>
> I agree that we ought not to let users save incomplete (and therefore
> error-producing) entries. But we need some kind of visual guide as
> well.
>
> --Alan
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> List Guidelines ............ http://listguide.ixda.org/
> List Help .................. http://listhelp.ixda.org/
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> Home ....................... http://ixda.org/
> Resource Library ........... http://resources.ixda.org
>

--
Sergiu Sebastian Tauciuc
http://www.sergiutauciuc.ro/en/

1 Nov 2006 - 4:47am
Anonymous

Alan wrote:

> I am having trouble determining if there is a standard or best
> practice for marking which fields are required on a desktop
> application form. This is a fairly standard Windows UI with lots of
> dialogs. Each dialog has some mandatory and some optional fields, and
> which are which tends to change with the data, system parameters, etc.
>
> Therefore, I want to have some visual treatment so users can know at a
> glance what fields are mandatory. On the Web there is a convention to
> mark required fields with asterisks (*) but this convention does not
> seem to have been back-ported to desktop UIs.
>
> Anyone have any pointers or suggestions?

Check out the Mac OS X setup assistant. It uses red arrows quite nicely.

If you want to run it again on a Mac that has already been set up,
delete the file /var/db/.AppleSetupDone and reboot.

Paul

shad 96c / uw cs 2001
/ mac activist / fumbler / eda / headliner / navy-souper
fan of / sophie b. / steve poltz / habs / bills / 49ers /

"What you consider an obvious and fair 'right of property' is
just a tissue of laughable claims made by an illegal, immoral,
and well-fattened cartel to own things they never built,
refuse to use, and are now trying to take from the real makers
and the real owners and the real users."
-- Jay Sulzberger on music licensing

1 Nov 2006 - 7:31am
jbellis
2005

Bold has in fact been the convention on most "desktop app" projects I've
worked on and it's done the job. But I am totally in favor of retrofitting
the web convention of the asterisk to the desktop world. I'd only add one
thing... keep the legend as simple as possible: * Required

-Jack

----- Original Message -----
From: "Sebi Tauciuc" <stauciuc at gmail.com>
> I think if there had been a desktop UI 'standard' more established than
> asterisks, someone would have mentioned it by now. Personally, I see
> nothing
> wrong with asterisks and nothing else more familiar comes to my mind.
> Ofcourse, we could try some other visual clues, like a bold face for
> labels,
> for instance. But that's just an idea, not a standard...

1 Nov 2006 - 9:56am
Tubman, Wahne
2004

We addressed this issue recently as well. What we did was to group
required fields using the group box control and placed them at the top
of the form. We followed the required group with a set of non-required
fields also displayed within a group box. We labeled each group box
accordingly- Required Fields, Optional Fields.
Validation happens on submit. If any of the required fields are without
values we display an asterisk next to the offending field.

-----Original Message-----
From: discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com
[mailto:discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com] On Behalf Of
Alan Wexelblat
Sent: Monday, October 30, 2006 6:15 PM
To: discuss-interactiondesigners.com at lists.interactiondesigners.com
Subject: [IxDA Discuss] Marking required fields on desktop UIs?

[Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted
material.]

Greetings

I am having trouble determining if there is a standard or best
practice for marking which fields are required on a desktop
application form. This is a fairly standard Windows UI with lots of
dialogs. Each dialog has some mandatory and some optional fields, and
which are which tends to change with the data, system parameters, etc.

Therefore, I want to have some visual treatment so users can know at a
glance what fields are mandatory. On the Web there is a convention to
mark required fields with asterisks (*) but this convention does not
seem to have been back-ported to desktop UIs.

Anyone have any pointers or suggestions?

--
--Alan Wexelblat
________________________________________________________________
Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
List Guidelines ............ http://listguide.ixda.org/
List Help .................. http://listhelp.ixda.org/
(Un)Subscription Options ... http://subscription-options.ixda.org/
Announcements List ......... http://subscribe-announce.ixda.org/
Questions .................. lists at ixda.org
Home ....................... http://ixda.org/
Resource Library ........... http://resources.ixda.org

2 Nov 2006 - 3:23am
stauciuc
2006

I am just curious: did this approach work well in your case?
I understand how it is much easier for users to find the required fields,
but I would also have thought that grouping by content and meaning comes
first. For instance, I can't imagine an address composed by both mandatory
and non-mandatory fields being split over those two groups.
... Doesn't this model break user expectations?

Sebi

On 11/1/06, Tubman, Wahne <wahne.tubman at gs.com> wrote:
>
> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted
> material.]
>
> We addressed this issue recently as well. What we did was to group
> required fields using the group box control and placed them at the top
> of the form. We followed the required group with a set of non-required
> fields also displayed within a group box. We labeled each group box
> accordingly- Required Fields, Optional Fields.
> Validation happens on submit. If any of the required fields are without
> values we display an asterisk next to the offending field.
>
>
> -----Original Message-----
> From: discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com
> [mailto:discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com] On Behalf Of
> Alan Wexelblat
> Sent: Monday, October 30, 2006 6:15 PM
> To: discuss-interactiondesigners.com at lists.interactiondesigners.com
> Subject: [IxDA Discuss] Marking required fields on desktop UIs?
>
> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted
> material.]
>
> Greetings
>
> I am having trouble determining if there is a standard or best
> practice for marking which fields are required on a desktop
> application form. This is a fairly standard Windows UI with lots of
> dialogs. Each dialog has some mandatory and some optional fields, and
> which are which tends to change with the data, system parameters, etc.
>
> Therefore, I want to have some visual treatment so users can know at a
> glance what fields are mandatory. On the Web there is a convention to
> mark required fields with asterisks (*) but this convention does not
> seem to have been back-ported to desktop UIs.
>
> Anyone have any pointers or suggestions?
>
> --
> --Alan Wexelblat
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> List Guidelines ............ http://listguide.ixda.org/
> List Help .................. http://listhelp.ixda.org/
> (Un)Subscription Options ... http://subscription-options.ixda.org/
> Announcements List ......... http://subscribe-announce.ixda.org/
> Questions .................. lists at ixda.org
> Home ....................... http://ixda.org/
> Resource Library ........... http://resources.ixda.org
>
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> List Guidelines ............ http://listguide.ixda.org/
> List Help .................. http://listhelp.ixda.org/
> (Un)Subscription Options ... http://subscription-options.ixda.org/
> Announcements List ......... http://subscribe-announce.ixda.org/
> Questions .................. lists at ixda.org
> Home ....................... http://ixda.org/
> Resource Library ........... http://resources.ixda.org
>

--
Sergiu Sebastian Tauciuc
http://www.sergiutauciuc.ro/en/

2 Nov 2006 - 2:21pm
Doug Anderson
2004

Hi Sebi, et al.,

One of the application development tools with which I have worked enforces *bold* labels on required fields (those fields defined to be required under all circumstances). Of course, other fields become "required" by application logic under various circumstances and have plain labels. That tool doesn't allow the labels of such fields to be changed programmatically to bold, which doesn't help the user to form a valid mental model of the meaning of bold labels. If you can control the boldness, it might make a good cue.

Although color is rightly to be avoided as the sole cue, I would think that a colored field background that is of a different grayscale value than that of optional fields would be distinct even for most forms of color vision impairment. The downside would be reduced contrast between text and background for some fields.

How about bold borders on required fields? Might that make the contents of required fields more difficult to read?

Ah well, perhaps we're beginning to see some of the reasons why there is no universal standard...

Peace,
Doug Anderson
Mayo Clinic
Rochester, MN

Opinions expressed are necessarily mine, not necessarily those of the Mayo Foundation.

original message:
Date: Wed, 1 Nov 2006 09:40:20 +0200
From: "Sebi Tauciuc" <stauciuc at gmail.com>
Subject: Re: [IxDA Discuss] Marking required fields on desktop UIs?
To: ixdadiscuss <discuss at ixda.org>

So the issue is not validation, but the initial visual clues to quickly
distinguish between mandatory and non-mandatory fields.
I think if there had been a desktop UI 'standard' more established than
asterisks, someone would have mentioned it by now. Personally, I see nothing wrong with asterisks and nothing else more familiar comes to my mind.
Ofcourse, we could try some other visual clues, like a bold face for labels, for instance. But that's just an idea, not a standard...

Sebi <http://www.sergiutauciuc.ro/en/>

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