I'm looking for a good way to indicate the value of a ComboBox is dirty. With TextBoxes I set the Background to yellow but that looks a little funny with the ComboBox because by default it looks 3d-ish and changing the background to straight yellow makes it appear flat. Any ideas about how to show the ComboBox value is dirty while keeping the look clean and pretty?

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    What exactly do you mean by the value being dirty? – JohnGB Sep 8 '11 at 13:30
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    @JohnGB Dirty means the field has been modified in the UI but the change hasn't been committed (e.g, the user has entered a selection in a combo box, but hasn't yet clicked the save button). – Patrick McElhaney Sep 8 '11 at 14:09

Assuming you mean you want to show that the value has changed and therefore the user needs to hit "Save" you could do one of the following:

  • Change the border of the control. This might be hard to spot or get confused with validation errors and may well remove the 3D appearance (depending on how you do it).
  • Add some sort of mark (asterisk, dagger, exclamation mark, etc.) beside the field. This might get confused with required fields.
  • Change the text format to bold or italic. Bold might be confused with default values and italics are forbidden in some human factors standards.


There are pros and cons to each (I've outlined a couple) and you need to see what works with your application and users.

  • Changing the border will almost certainly remove the native 3D appearance. – Chris Morgan Sep 8 '11 at 23:26
  • another con: italics are explicitly forbidden in some HF standards – jk. Sep 9 '11 at 13:56
  • I ended up wrapping the ComboBox in a border and setting the thickness and color when the value is dirty. This way the 3D appearance of the ComboBox is preserved. – KrisTrip Sep 13 '11 at 16:29
  • It is already a convention on Property Grids that bold is for modified values. I disagree when you say that in can be understood as a default value. – sergiol Jul 18 '14 at 10:58

The alternative is changing the text to a different colour. I have seen this done, but I don't like it, because changing colours is usually used to indicate validation issues.

However, I would consider the alternatives of markers that are not easily confused with required indicators, because these can be total consistent across all input types.

As a rule I prefer the option of enabling the save button when there is anything that can be saved, but I realise that this does not specify which fields have changed.


Is data saved field by field, or is it dependent on the state of a form? If it's the latter, I'd say make an indication that the whole form has changes that are not yet saved.


Can you put a warning symbol next to the input with a tooltip of what needs to be done? The good ol famfamfam warning would do: enter image description here

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