11

It is common the use of asterisk (*) to indicate required elements. I understand the use of explicit text is better than relying on symbols. So writing "required" or "optional" is more understandable than relying on some symbol.

I'm creating lists of elements characteristics for personal use. These are not forms, just text lists. Most (90% or more) of the elements I am listing will be required. So rather than indicate required elements I want to (only) indicate optional elements, which are the minority. I can use my own symbol and give it the optional meaning as my team will be the only ones reading the elements. But I was wondering if there is any convention of a symbol for optional fields/elements.


My question is related to lists of text, not forms. Although I think there might not really be much difference. As far as I understand it the required goes in the label anyway. Also, again, this will be for personal use.

So the question is if there is any symbol/way to represent optional elements. Either used as a convention (in some niche) or if someone has any suggestion.

  • 1
    Ask your team what they suggest. I'm not aware of a convention. – bloodyKnuckles Dec 26 '16 at 22:20
  • 1
    OP, can you show a brief snippet of the page? Based on your update that these are not forms, I'm just trying to understand whether the items are unrelated and whether a simple format of text would suffice (e.g., black vs. gray text or use of columns). – bphilipnyc Jan 2 '17 at 3:05
  • @bphilipnyc The question came from an app which is in idea stage, while doing lists of characteristics, features... For example what to require in a sign-up (user name, email, city), what are the steps to perform certain actions, etc. – Alvaro Jan 2 '17 at 19:18
  • By definition, wouldn't any field that's not required be optional? – Jason Towne Jan 4 '17 at 1:02
  • @JasonTowne that is (normally) true. And the opposite too. – Alvaro Jan 4 '17 at 1:03

13 Answers 13

11

There is no widely accepted convention to show optional fields. So as you described, you can mark the fields as optional instead using labels (as noted on the right):

enter image description here

Another way could be to shade the section with a subtle gray color to distinguish them as optional, while also including the text. I'd refrain from using a question mark, as that generally connotates "help" information.

Lastly, depending on your flow, it could make sense to request the optional fields on a subsequent page that the user can choose to skip entirely.

If you're not using form fields, then using a subtle gray shaded box on optional fields or simply making the text light gray might suffice.

  • 2
    If you do make optional fields light grey ensue it is very, very subtle as otherwise they may appear readonly/disabled which would be confusing to the user. – scunliffe Dec 27 '16 at 4:59
  • I believe just a placeholder into the textbox could serve the purpose at its best. – Anunay Mahajan Dec 29 '16 at 11:42
  • On a form where certain fields are marked by asterisks, the lack of an asterisk automatically implies that it is optional. – Jason Cemra Jan 1 '17 at 6:36
  • 1
    Jason, please take a look at the OP's second paragraph (bold writing) – bphilipnyc Jan 1 '17 at 17:32
3

Since it is for personal use you can make up whatever you want.

I would make a legend like this on top of the form/page/whatever:

URL to legend

  • 1
    Great in theory, but making up symbols so that a user needs to refer to a key to understand them may increase usability friction. Love the "$" one though :) – Jason Cemra Jan 1 '17 at 6:38
  • The sign which you use for the option info is practically misguiding the user. Because it's very common approach to user "check" sign when any activity is completed or anything approved from the user or admin. It is the sign to denote check mark generally. So as per my view point its not really helpful and suitable sign. – Jasmin Javia Jan 4 '17 at 9:44
3

The convention is that the * marked fields are the required ones and the ones without a mark are optional, there is no need to mark them as optional, because that's the convention.

another thing to keep in mind is that not all the users are aware of the * convention for required fields, I read a few years ago that in Israel (my country) it is a known convention, but I would check if the situation is similar with your users using A/B testing between * and "required" for example.

  • 1
    This was going to be my comment, aside from the Israel thing. – DarrylGodden Jan 3 '17 at 14:17
3
+50

To just answer your question, there is no symbol to convey that a form field is optional, the convention is that a lack of symbol means that a field is optional.

This convention is so strong that when we trialled a form with the note "All fields are required, unless otherwise stated" and used "(optional)" to denote optional fields we ran into usability issues with users where they were confused by what was and wasn't required. This was true even for forms that had all required fields.

We found that in our case users wanted to be explicitly told that fields were required, and that it also helped for form validation errors, for a user to quickly see that a field was required.

I hope that answers your question about there being a symbol - no there isn't one.

As for your own situation, there are plenty of good solutions listed on this page, and coming up with your own system might be best given it's just you and your team. My suggestion would be that, as you're not using form elements and just list items that you can use the asterisk to denote an optional item. After all, the convention of using an asterisk to denote conditions has been used well before online form. (I wouldn't suggest this if you were dealing with forms, but as it's just a list I don't see an issue with it).

E.g.

  • Item 1
  • Item 2
  • Item 3
  • Item 4*
  • Item 5

* Denotes optional items

  • Thank you for answering the symbol question. It might be a good idea to rely on an asterisk, but as it can be confused with the required I think a double asterisk ** might be better. So it doesn't get confused with required and still indicates there is an explanation to read below. – Alvaro Jan 4 '17 at 11:19
  • I completely agree @Alvaro, double asterisk is a great idea, or a superscript plus or cross are also common – Brett East Jan 5 '17 at 3:12
  • As my comment from above serves as a fitting example here: A large German bank uses the asterisk to denote optional items in at least some of their web-based forms, e.g. the address changing form. The key is indeed that the meaning of the asterisk is indicated near the form body. – O. R. Mapper Apr 2 '17 at 14:46
2

This is what I would do in order to specify when a field is required or optional

enter image description here

The last field is the active one, I added it in order to show that we still have the label when the field is active.

1

I think it is enough to mark only one type of fields (required / optional). My opinion is you should follow the convention by marking required fields and reduce visual noise by letting the optional fields without any label. You can find some info about required fields on Material design guidelines:

To indicate that a field is required, display an asterisk (*) next to the field. At the bottom of the form, include a note explaining that an asterisk indicates a required field. Helper text can either be visible on focus, or visible persistently.

Te red color is necessary only if you have an error, otherwise can be confusing.

enter image description here In some examples, you can find the word "optional" in the label:

enter image description here

0

@Alvaro I agree with you that text would be more understandable instead of icons. But now things getting changed. Nowadays people are used to with colours too for common colours. For example "red" colour denotes something wrong or not attempted or failure. "Green" means successful or approved or submitted. So you can use the colour code as I have listed below via wireframe. This is now very popular approach to denote the required and optional field.

mockup

download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

EDITED

It's a common approach and everybody saved in their mind that id field doesn't have any asterisk sign then it is optional. So I think it doesn't need to give icons or symbols for each and every scenario. If things are going smooth without giving any symbols then it is big deal.

  • Thanks @JasminJavia. The case is for text lists, so writing 90% of the elments in red is not the best option. But I like your proposal of using color to denote "special" elements ('optional' in this case). – Alvaro Dec 27 '16 at 11:26
  • It's not a good idea to use color as the sole determiner -- especially not red vs green. Too many people have non-standard color perception. Color is convenient, but there should always be a non-color token to distinguish the categories. – MMacD Dec 30 '16 at 22:09
0

I set required inputs in one and first page/part, after them optional inputs. So, Each page/part is categorized at least by required and optional. Something like this (with separating pages):

separating pages Note: I can add a note in optional page like "Please add additional information".
Or (with separating in another part): separating in another part

  • I would imagine the second option would reduce the amount of optional information collected to nearly nothing. I like the first option though. – maxathousand Dec 29 '16 at 16:05
0

Since your list is meant to be used by you or internally with your team, you have the liberty to set up your own legend/symbol system.

You are not tied to the optional/asterisk used in form fields because (1) your list is not a form and therefore (2) nobody will use the optional/asterisk mental model to understand your list.

So you are pretty much free to do anything, depending on your needs and the format this documents exists in. And as long as you explain what your symbol system means.

For example, if your list is done in an excel-sheet, you could have a column labeled as "Required". Each required row will have its "Required" cell colored. This way, all features are colored by default and you only un-color those that are optional.

enter image description here

Following the above example, if your decision process becomes more complex, you might have 3 columns: Required, TBD, Optional. The goal is maintaining the TBD column blank. Meaning all discussions about such feature has taken place and a final decision made.

enter image description here

This format will also allow you to sort rows by requirement and any other variable your team needs. Also, maybe the color coding will help you quickly determine what items need to be dealt with.

0

For simplicity, it feels natural to show which are required before an error message has to tell a user what's required. Anything else that's left as an option doesn't need an optional message by the nature of a required element.

If no special required element existed, then everything can be perceived as an option unless expressed otherwise in a header sentence or paragraph.

0

Limiting my answer strictly to text. I think the best you can do is:

Rich text: italic and/or gray

mockup

download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

Plain text: parentheses

Required 1
(Optional 1)
Required 2
Required 3
...
0

If the label its upside the field, Its recommendable use the word; but if is on the the side, its better use asterisk.

The reason its simple: the first option its more visible and help the user to identify with more clarity. The second option, its better because not use a lot of space.

A third option, could be use the placeholder. But I don't recommend use this option because is not enough clear.

0

With no pun intended. Would it be an option not to show 'optional' fields or list items by default (since they're optional). Provide a link to toggle optional items. Use animation to transition in the optional items to help people understand the visual difference and which doesn't require them to think or look for the meaning behind a symbol.

Use font weight to distinguish required from optional. If it needs more strength - add 'optional' label or symbol to make it even clearer. Taking it further use color or tone. All this would require some testing against your actual use cases and goals.

Example with Label

Show Optional

Item

Item

Item


Hide Optional

Item

Item (Optional)

Item

Item

Item (Optional)


Example with Symbol

Show Optional ^

Item

Item

Item


Hide Optional ^

Item

Item ^

Item

Item

Item ^

protected by Benny Skogberg Jan 4 '17 at 8:54

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