I am designing an input field for a year, that needs to be 4 digits. YYYY as help text does not seem very clear when it is not combined with MM/DD. What is best practice here? Current Design

  • What sort of issues have you observed, and what is the context around this? I would have expected users to default to 4 digits when asked for only a year as "19" or "20" is incredibly ambiguous. But if this is asking for the year they were born, I could see someone wanting to enter only "88" or "74". Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 13:29
  • Very related question, although unfortunately, almost all answerers misunderstood what it's about. Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 14:55

4 Answers 4


The easiest way might be to provide the help text next to the label, and provide simple validation for when a user fails to input the required pattern.

I don't believe "4 digits" is necessary or common in forms requesting a full year be entered. I have commonly seen "YYYY" used in the context of years, so that should not be an unexpected use here.

showing form validation process for invalid 2-digit year

This should clearly show the user the issue, and instruct them as to how to fix it.

  • I would use this solution without the yyyy label, I think it's very tech minded and not everyone understands this so might be more confusing than helpful. (you want me to enter numbers but show me letters...?)
    – Martyn
    Commented Oct 23, 2019 at 19:30
  • @Martyn Respectfully, I disagree. Showing representative symbols or characters to request a desired pattern is quite common (in my experience, though could be regional), not only in digital interfaces, but government and other legal forms as well. Perhaps the very first time someone sees a pattern by form field like this, they may have a question, but I don't predict that this would cause excessive friction. Commented Oct 23, 2019 at 20:32
  • I've never seen yyyy being used in other languages, in Dutch for example that would become jjjj which I would say is weird, so region does play a factor. Something weird can unnecessary distract users and your solution with the validation fallback already fixes the problem nicely. Therfore I would argue the addition of yyyy us obsolete, but that's my opinion :)
    – Martyn
    Commented Oct 23, 2019 at 20:39
  • @Martyn Good point. I agree it‘s not a critical element here. Commented Oct 23, 2019 at 20:43

YYYY, besides DD and MM is standardized international format used across devices and softwares.

You have no need to change that. You could place YYYY not as help text, than as Placeholder. Also you could provide Input Field validation with underscores or easy background to display 4 digits. ( _ _ _ _ )

  • The linked page about the ISO format does not say anything about the placeholder "YYYY" being standardized or internationally recognized in any way, and I'm pretty sure in particular the assumption that "YYYY" is necessarily understood internationally is risky. Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 14:49
  • Point was it is mostly used design pattern for displaying year digits across the globe, not only on internet than in other media as well. So people are used mostly to this. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ISO_8601#Usage
    – xul
    Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 20:15
  • Again, that paragraph talks about the date format (for ISO dates, four year digits, followed by a dash, then two month digits, followed by a dash, then two day digits), not about the English placeholder consisting of four times the letter 'Y'. Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 22:52
  • Right. Links show that you need to display 4 digits and give visual clue about that in any case. YYYY is widely adopted. Best of I can think of is YYYY in placeholder, and just "Year" above as the title of the field. Also you could do this validation, limit input on 4 digits as mentioned in original answer. Hope this helps.
    – xul
    Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 7:53

Gov.uk suggests giving an example for the fully completed set of fields (dd, mm, yyyy) as per their date input design system.

In your example you could use this same approach and instead of writing YYYY as a hint, you could say For example 1999.

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  • OP mentions that for their use case, the month and day components of the date are not collected—they only need the 4-digit year, which is why they were unsure how to best preset it to the user. Your example shows the day/month/year form, so I don't think it's quite the same. Commented Oct 14, 2019 at 13:26
  • That's a fair point, but I was trying to draw attention to the 'hint' text, I will update the answer to reflect that Commented Oct 19, 2019 at 15:10

Kristin, what are the typical years that users would enter into this field due its intended use? Based on that, you could come up with an algorithm that would automatically create a four-digit year when a user enters fewer than four digits.

As an ad-hoc example, of these were years of birth, than you can safely assume that any year would be less than, or equal to, 2019. Hence, if a user'd type, "19", the field could become "2019" as soon as the user tabs out of the field. Similarly, "23" would become "1923," etc.

Even though this'd take a bit of work to make it operate smoothly for three- and single-digit entries, it'd still save users some effort and head-scratching if they enter a two-digit year, particularly since they will (likely) not be confronted with an annoying formatting error message.

As for the layout with the help text, you might get away with not having to change anything. Make sure, though, that you do test the field with your intended users to see if they find it usable.

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