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Field Prompts
In a previous article on the use of colour in applications, I recommended not using colour for special meanings in your application, for example red backgrounds for mandatory columns. If you followed those guidelines your application will look more professional but you will have lost the indication to the user of which columns are mandatory.

As an alternative way of gently prompting users of a columns nature we can use the field prompts with a subtle change. The basic rule is that all prompts for field should not have an ending character. For example a lot of people always end prompts with a colon : . By removing this colon from the ends of prompts we can then use this character and other characters to infer a meaning to the user.

In a data entry window you can leave all non mandatory columns with no prompt and add a colon to all fields that are mandatory. This is a very effective way of prompting the user as to which fields are mandatory, that not only looks professional but does not stop colour blind people from gaining the same information.

With this basic idea we can extent it further to include other meanings and prompts for the user. For example we can include the wildcard character at the end of a prompt where the entry field allows wildcard entry (for example on a search window), by making the prompt the same character as the wildcard character we not only let the user know that they can enter a wild card but also what the wildcard character is.

These are two great uses for field prompts, you could extend them slightly but I would not recommend using more than 3 or 4 different prompts. As always consistency is they key so make sure you use the prompts consistently throughout all your windows and applications.


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Ken Howe 2011