by anthony on 08/31/10 at 4:35 pm
What should you do if you have both required and optional fields on your form? Most designers use red asterisks to tell users which fields need filling out. But this is a common practice on forms today that needs serious reconsidering.
When you mark all of your required form fields with red asterisks it creates a lot of visual noise that makes your form messy and unclear. This visual noise slows users down because they have to first figure out what the asterisks mean before they can feel comfortable filling out the form. Some forms don’t even point out what the red asterisks mean leaving most users in the dark about what to do.
The red asterisks are alarming and confusing to users
Users will also tend to search for all the red asterisks on a form to make sure they have filled out all the required fields before submission. The red asterisks make users more fearful about making errors, which can affect your form completion rate. While filling out forms isn’t an activity to get excited about, users should at least be able to fill out a form without stress or confusion. Red asterisks put users on edge before they even begin.
By marking the optional fields, this form is easy for users to fill out
To make the user’s life easier, you should quit marking the required fields and only mark the optional fields. This is because users usually come to forms already expecting to fill everything out. It’s implicit in the nature of forms, so there’s no need to explicitly tell users what they need to fill out.
What’s more helpful is telling them what they don’t need to fill out because it cuts down their work. The only time a user would question whether a field needs filling out is if the information that you’re asking for is something they really don’t want to give you. For this reason, it’s important that your form only asks for information you absolutely need.
Required Fields Outnumber Optional Ones
When you mark optional fields, the result is always less visual noise for the user. This is because most forms usually have more required fields than optional fields. This means less marking for a cleaner and clearer user interface.
If you have more optional fields than required fields, you should ask yourself why you’re asking users for so much information you don’t need. Asking users for more information than you need is a sure way to get users to not fill out your forms.
Having less visual noise on your forms not only makes your form easier on the eyes, but it makes filling them out faster. You won’t put users on edge with alarming red asterisks, nor will they have to figure out which fields are required. By spotting the few marked optional fields, the user automatically knows that the other fields are required.
Marked required fields with errors should show after submission, not before
There is one time when you should mark required fields. That’s when the user makes an error and accidentally submits the form without filling out the required fields correctly. Marking the required fields the user made an error on is helpful because they have just submitted the form and need to know which fields to correct. The marked fields are more of a signal to users than noise in this situation.
A well-designed form cuts the noise for users by pointing out the optional fields. This not only allows them to fill out the form with ease, but it makes it clear to them which fields they don’t need to fill out. Knowing where they can save time and effort on a form is important.
But if your form marks all the required fields with asterisks, users aren’t going to notice where they can save time. They’re going to see all the work they need to do on your form and get discouraged. If you want users to fill out your form, avoid asterisks for required fields and mark the optional fields.