As part of a system I'm currently working on users will need to fill out some large (40+ fields) forms, they will not always fill out all fields but are required to fill out a handful of core fields in order to insert the record. The fields, due to being laid out in category groups, are dotted around.

I was considering a traffic light colour based outline system whereby the fields will be outlined in amber if they're required and live validation will convert the outline to green when it's completed as required. I figured red would be no good as red outlines are used when errors are present in the content.

My questions are:

1) Will the amber outline make the users feel the field is "slightly incorrect" like they've made some mistake?

2) Am I making a mistake not using the familiar red asterisk?

3) Live validation will tell the user that the field has been filled and will turn the border green - shall I have content validation here? Or do this at the end with the rest of the form (on submit) - if I validate these fields on the fly is it bad practice to validate the rest of the fields at the end?

3 Answers 3


I think HeyHudson presents a good range of valid points. And in addition to this I would like to recommend a presentation by Luke Wroblewski on Form design. He discusses the issues to keep in mind when designing an online form and also which triggers to use to enforce user interaction in the right way. He also gives good pointers on how to provide good feedback when everything is ok contra when something is wrong in the form. Also his presentations are very entertaining as well as you learn best practices from listening/looking at them. All fun all way round!

  • Thanks for the link, AndroidHustle. I always enjoy an answer backed up by evidence!
    – TJH
    Commented Jul 27, 2012 at 9:32
  • Thank you TJH, I hope you enjoy the presentation. I did! =) Commented Jul 27, 2012 at 9:46

From an accessibility POV, it's a bad idea to rely solely on colour to convey anything due to issues around types of colour blindness. I think that's why the asterik has become such a convention as it doesn't rely on this. Also, most live validation forms I've come across will put a tick/cross next to the field, again negating the reliance on colour alone.

  • Good point, the colour blind testing on this will be done by the users as it's an internal system used by a small group of users. I'll look in to the contrast etc, but I was definitely planning on an asterisk as well
    – TJH
    Commented Jul 27, 2012 at 8:56

From personal experience orange is a good color to indicate objects where actions are necessary. You will also see a lot of Call to action buttons which are orange (as long as the it fits the final color design). So yes, orange will be a good color to provoke an action. But be sure to use this color with the same purpose in your entire design.

To answer your second question, you are not making a mistake. Although it is common to show a red asterisk next to the required fields, this was usually the only indication. Now that you have an orange action-provoking color around your input fields I think the asterisk can be left out.

And finally your third question. When I see an input box turning green after giving input I expect it to be verified and succesful. When I press submit and learn that my input was not correct I will be frustrated. Provide live validation or no validation at all. Do not leave the user somewhere in between.

  • Hi Matthijs, I plan on keeping the asterisk as a backup just in case - but from a distance I'm hoping the orange will make it a little more obvious! Thanks for your answer, and thank you for the points raised regarding Q3
    – TJH
    Commented Jul 27, 2012 at 9:34
  • Why not create a quick user test. Setting 1: a form with asterisks Setting 2: a form with amber highlighting. Have them fill out a complicated form and check whether the first or last setting makes users fill out the form in one "go".. Commented Jul 27, 2012 at 9:59
  • I'll certainly try that - after all the UX only matters relative to the users themselves!
    – TJH
    Commented Jul 27, 2012 at 10:21

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.