I saw an unexpected sign up process with the Ghostbrowser beta invite when creating an account, and I wondered what the conventional strategy is when you have to mix mandatory and optional choices on the same interaction/page?

To me it is a little bit confusing at first because the section itself is mandatory, but the selections are checkboxes which implies that you don't have to make specific selections. However, if there are options which are required and errors are generated if you don't select it, then why even bother asking the user to select it?

See the screenshot captured below:

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How can these types of mandatory + optional selections on sign up preferences be managed in a more graceful manner?

4 Answers 4


Don't mix options and requirements

The requirement to click the "Account Related Emails" checkbox is a required term of service, not a preference.

“Mandatory option” and “required preference” are oxymorons, and annoying turns-of-phrase. So the required checkbox needs to be moved out from any heading called Options or Preferences.

Move that checkbox near to the submit button, and make the label something like:

I understand I will receive emails related to my account. Learn more.

“Learn more” would be a link leading to information about what is meant by “emails related to my account” and how often they might be received.


Yes, that is very confusing. If "account related emails are required" they should either:

  • Rephrase the question as "Additional email preferences: what emails would you like to receive in addition to account related emails?"
  • Or show "Account Related Emails" as an always checked and disabled checkbox
  • I assume it's similar to the "I accept the Ts&Cs" check-boxes that often need to be ticked before a piece of software will install -- doing it this way requires a positive action on the part of the user (presumably so users can't claim they didn't know they gave permission for something).
    – TripeHound
    Commented Aug 15, 2016 at 9:14
  • Sure- in that case they are deliberately going with something not as usable for the sake of business requirements. I still think there could be a way to do this in a slightly more understandable way- instead of just saying "This field is required" go ahead and be explicit "Before you can use this serivce, you must agree to receive account related emails. We promise not to send any unsolicited emails to this address. etc. etc."
    – J. Dimeo
    Commented Aug 15, 2016 at 13:42

The structure and microcopy for the form can help overcome these sort of issues.

For example making the question, possible answers, help text and any validation errors distinct from one another design wise. Also positioning the validation error next to the question, rather than answers would help add context to where the problem is.

The microcopy could help as well with the help text for the question, mentioning something along the lines of "Check all that apply" or similar.

Also the validation message "This field is required" doesn't really match the field type, better copy might be "Please select at least one of these options".


I believe this design and the confusion is intentional. A dark pattern if you will.

You only have to allow Account Related Emails, and do not have to sign up for the Weekly Digest. But because both are listed in a required field, a significant portion of the users will assume the newsletter is also a requirement. This will lead to a lot more people signing up for a newsletter that they probably don't really want. Which likely leads to more (total) traffic and customers, albeit at the cost of conversion rates of the mailing list and at the cost of customer happiness.

  • This is an interesting take on the design pattern. I guess if it is a dark pattern then it would be interesting to see whether it might actually be more detrimental as users that don't want the newsletter just end up not even signing up for the Weekly Blog Digest.
    – Michael Lai
    Commented Oct 17, 2016 at 4:30
  • @MichaelLai You mean people that don't want the newsletter don't sign up for the account related emails either, right? I'm not saying people might not sign up for the digest/letter because of the name, but that they might sign up for an optional thing because it's visually implied to be required. Commented Oct 22, 2016 at 16:10
  • Well, I am not really sure and hence I asked the question just to get thoughts on it. And your take of it being a dark pattern was interesting to me, because I am a passionate advocate of ethical design :)
    – Michael Lai
    Commented Oct 22, 2016 at 22:25

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