Our application will have multiple add forms where the user will need to enter/select at least two pieces of data before the form will allow the record to be added. These two entries must form a unique combination before they are valid.

What is the best approach to show a user that a combination is valid? I've used an error provider on the first field in the past that shows up once both pieces of data have been entered.

I've thought about using a status area at the bottom of the form to notify the user that the combination of data is not valid.

This is a simplified version of one of these forms. A name can only exist in one department. I'm struggling with how to display that either one of these items might be wrong. The user may need to change the name or select a different department. I have no way of knowing which piece is actually wrong.

  • Can you provide screenshots?
    – Garik
    Dec 12, 2017 at 16:40
  • 3
    In cases like this, it's usually better to pose the question as "Here is a screenshot/mockup of the thing I have/want, and this is the specific UX problem I think it represents". When you talk about the problem in a general or abstracted way, it becomes too broad, and the answer becomes "it depends..."
    – dennislees
    Dec 12, 2017 at 17:02
  • Added an image with a little more explanation. We're leaning towards inline validation on the name field since it is typed and also disabling the save button until a unique combination exists.
    – Speirs45
    Dec 12, 2017 at 19:45

3 Answers 3


The best way is to provide only valid options for second field.

If there are multiple dependent fields in a form, populate the dependent field(s) on run time based on the selected value in previous field(s). Otherwise user can encounter multiple error messages till he is able to enter a valid combination.


How about a green check mark that shows up next to the data pair as soon as the second valid option is selected? If the second piece of data isn't correct, perhaps don't let the user leave it selected, and put some gentle helper text underneath, like "Please select a unique item."


Prevent saving by displaying a message instead of "Save" button. Once the combination matches, change the message and display the "Save" button.


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