Suppose I have a settings screen where I have a table with a bunch of rows with checkboxes. For example the default settings are:

| Name | Setting |
| A    | on      |
| B    | off     |

Then the user comes and toggles the setting A

| Name | Setting |
| A    | off     |
| B    | off     |

What's a good way to tell the user that the setting A is now different from default? Maybe some background color that intuitively conveys the message?


I would suggest not to use asterisk since it is used to mark required fields. Instead let's compare several possible solutions:

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(3),(4) are the most noticeable, but (4) seems to be more natural and easy to understand.


Red and green are used for validation. Blue is the only one neutral left.

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Forgot to mention combined approach can be used to produce universal solution:

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Nice solution proposed by Marjan Venema

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  • I do agree with you. In fact I went with 4th approach. But the question of color still remains. Any ideas? – Roman Royter Feb 23 '13 at 2:33
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    Light tint of blue will do the job. – Renat Gilmanov Feb 23 '13 at 2:57
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    As a variation on option 4 you could consider just bolding the text. It's an approach I have seen more often and clearly indicates values different from the default without drawing too much attention to them. It also helps in scenario's where you can have option schemes deriving from each other bold + saturated would be changed in this scheme, bold + slightly transparent would indicated not changed from ancestor, but ancestor is different from default. – Marjan Venema Feb 23 '13 at 11:21
  • @MarjanVenema, you could post your idea as an answer – oefe Feb 23 '13 at 19:31
  • @MarjanVenema, unfortunately most of the settings are checkboxes, so bolding them doesn't give as much attention, as bolding text. – Roman Royter Feb 24 '13 at 1:36

In Firefox's about:config page, each user set setting is presented in bold:

small screenshot of about:config

This is extremely useful for settings that the user might come back to later, so that he/she are not expected to remember what he/she has changed before.

  • Hmm, I like that idea too. Need to experiment. – Roman Royter Feb 25 '13 at 2:51

What's a good way to tell the user that the setting A is now different from default? Maybe some background color that intuitively conveys the message?

Why does the user need to know this? Is it important to reset things to the default? Would a "reset to defaults" button be more useful and add less noise to the UI?

If it was important that the person using the site knew the default value for some settings I would include it in the labelling around the field. So you might have something like "(default on)" after the setting.

  • In this case, it is important to indicate the settings that deviate from default. The settings being security permissions. – Roman Royter Feb 24 '13 at 1:42
  • Why is it important? Why does the user care? Can we communicate this in other ways than "you have changed the default"? – adrianh Feb 24 '13 at 1:48
  • Because the user is an administrator viewing another user security permissions, and they need to know if this particular user deviates from default permissions. If a setting is different from default, it means that a it was changed, and there was some risk calculation performed, which need to be reminded of. – Roman Royter Feb 25 '13 at 2:54
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    Cool. That makes sense. In that case maybe add in explicit warnings about the risk "Private: No [bob made this public on 2008-01-23:19:22]" or something? – adrianh Mar 1 '13 at 12:45

A color change sounds reasonably, you can also put some mark next to the setting (a dot, an asterisk) or use a label "new" or "changed". If there are a lot of settings that change this way, you can consider grouping them on the top of settings list (but this depends much on the system).

  • Do you know of any standard color that would indicate "change"? – Roman Royter Feb 22 '13 at 22:40
  • I would not rely on color alone, try including an icon, an asterisk, or possibly bolding the text in addition to color to provide sufficient visual cues that the setting is custom – Charles Wesley Feb 22 '13 at 23:08

I would use a colour solution (blue one, perhaps) but I would fade this colour away after 2-3 seconds to catch up user's attention.

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