As the question states - How should a field in read-only mode be indicated?

  • Should it be just a label, some very light grey background behind it, or something else?
  • Is there any user research that exist regarding the optimal way to display fields in read-only mode?

It depends somewhat on the platform you are developing for. For example, Windows applications have a standard "disabled" look for controls like text boxes. If your platform has a standard then you should follow it. Developing for the web gives you a little more freedom, but it is generally wise to leverage the user's existing knowledge of what a disabled field looks like rather than completely inventing your own.

It also depends on whether the field was ever an editable one, or how it relates to other editable data.

A greyed background / "disabled look" text box makes sense for text fields that:

  • were editable at some point in the past.
  • or have been auto-populated by the user selecting some particular option.
  • or belong to a set of data where only some fields are editable.

A label / plain text makes more sense for scenarios where:

  • the data will never ever change.
  • or the data in the form containing the field has been submitted, and you are displaying a summary of the data to the user (something like the text summary of shipping details and price breakdown you get after you make an online purchase).
  • Really like this answer. Do you know of any user research related to this area? – Andreas Johansson Jun 17 '14 at 7:06
  • @AndreasJohansson Sorry, I don't know of any specific research on this. My answer is just based on my general experience. – Franchesca Jun 17 '14 at 8:12

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