The use case:

A user is presented a form with (for simplicity) two text fields: one for inputting minutes and one for inputting seconds. The user inputs 0 minutes and 100 seconds and clicks OK. Then they open the form again. What are the expected values in the fields supposing both options are valid:

  1. 0 minutes 100 seconds
  2. 1 minute 40 seconds

I personally tend to choose the option No.1 in order not to change the data the user have provided because the format may be intentional but I can't find a sufficiently solid basis for defending this point of view. Is there any UX guideline for this which I could refer to?

3 Answers 3


Personally I would validate the form and not allow users to input any more seconds than 59. If the user does, a message should appear informing the user that they should use the minutes field if the value is higher than 59. This way, the user inputs the numbers in the correct format and there is no need to change the way it's formatted. Don't change the user input otherwise you risk confusing them.

  • I agree that a lot depends on the context which I haven't specified but there are cases where unformatted values make more sense than the ones split into units. Say, the operating time of a device is measured in thousands of hours rather than years and months, domestic electric power is measures in thousands of kWh rather than MWh and so on. Universally limiting the input values to be strictly within their range would be simply unacceptable in these cases. I totally share Dave Alger' view that ultimately only the user can be aware of the meaning they put into their input. Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 9:54
  • I totally agree that it depends on the context and I also share Dave Alger's view. Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 14:19

Users have their own reasons of doing what they do

When I input 70 seconds on my microwave and hit start it changes to 1 minute and 10 seconds. I hate it.

My iPhone tries to help me by formatting phone numbers I type in. I hate that too.

Even systems that autocorrect misspelled text for me drive me bonkers. Feel free to put a red squiggly underline under words that you think I typed wrong but don't try and correct it for me. I know what I want and if you change it for me then you are basically saying I can't have what I want.

Don't change user input.


I'll flip this question right back at you.

Say you have those two choices above that you listed, and you like the one where the system doesn't format the input the most. That's fine, for 100 seconds. But what about a 1 minute and 100 seconds input? How should that be displayed when the user goes back to look at it? As 1 minute and 100 seconds, or perhaps 160 seconds? No, in that case you would probably prefer to display it formatted as 2 minutes and 40 seconds.

It's important that your system withholds consistency towards the user. If it formats the input in some cases but not in others you will most probably confuse the user, and if not confuse then at least risk that the user percepts your system as a bit wonky.

So what ever you choose, make sure you do it consistently. If you feel that keeping the input always the way the user entered it, then keep it that way, with the risk of units not relating accordingly to each other. Or if you want to provide a system which keeps the input tidy, then apply a consistent formatting strategy throughout the system.

  • If a user is given two inputs then 1 minute and 100 seconds is perfectly fine. It isn't up to a computer to decide what makes sense to the user and change their input.
    – DaveAlger
    Commented Feb 24, 2015 at 13:38
  • @DaveAlger You may be right, I'd digging in my mind for real world examples. And I can't really determine whether a service auto formatting / correcting my input is as a whole a nuisance or an aid. It really depends on context. Commented Feb 24, 2015 at 14:18
  • I'm okay with helping the user by limiting what they can input in the first place where it makes sense but once you allow something to be input I don't think it is a good idea to change it.
    – DaveAlger
    Commented Feb 24, 2015 at 14:36
  • It all must be consistent, I totally agree. But there is one case I've left out for simplicity, and this is that while splitting into minutes and hours works fine there isn't a way to accurately do it with months and years since the number of days in a month or a year is variable. So this is again up to the user to decide whether 31 day mean one whole month or a month and a day, which is what Dave Alger is saying. Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 10:05
  • @user3071170 while I agree with you I still feel that the relation between seconds-minutes-hours isn't the same as days-months-years. The unit relation between seconds and hours are always the same, there are always 3600 seconds to an hour. However, as you point out, there are usually 30 or 31 days to a month, and sometimes there are 28, and every once in a while there are 29 days. So unless you have the amount of months mapped to a calendar you can't really say anything about how many days there are. I feel that there is a difference here. Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 10:44

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