I'm working on a checklist for new transfer students to guide them through the onboarding process at their new University. They have certain tasks they need to complete, and others that are optional. For example, they MUST submit a Tuberculosis screening questionnaire, but they MAY or MAY NOT apply for Financial Aid, Housing, etc. There is one item that they must complete first, but all other items can be completed at any time and at any order.

I went through this post: How to present a todo list / checklist to a user and I agree with the gist of the top answer, but I'm struggling with the best way to represent items that are optional.

Currently, I am showing a green arrow or a red cross if an item is completed or not. The problem is that to me a red cross implies something "bad" and I wonder if users would get confused. Below is a very rough draft that shows what I mean.

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1 Answer 1


I'd approach this using somewhat more straightforward conventions.

  • People understand checklists.
  • People understand numeric ordering.
  • People prefer clear directives, especially for something like school registration.
  • You have 3 categories: First, Required, and Optional. So to differentiate them, you might put them into sections.
  • I agree with your concern about the red X appearing as an error state to users. This convention might cause confusion for optional elements. I think if you make the undone items look like any other undone checklist, and make the completed ones green and checked, people will get it.

For the first step / state, if there's only one thing a person can do / must do, well, tell them that.

  • At first I thought to suggest that you only have that form, and they have to fill it out before even seeing the other stuff. However, I'm currently going through school application / registration processes (on behalf of someone else) and it's REALLY frustrating to not be able to see up front what's going to be required. (Oh, I need to get medical records? Might as well get the Doctor's office started on that.)

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Once the first item is completed, the remaining items become actionable (rather than visually disabled).

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Hope that helps!

  • 1
    Thank you, especially for the comment on seeing up front all items that will be required.
    – RommelTJ
    Oct 23, 2014 at 15:33

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