Showing User-Entered vs. Default Values in a form

8 Jul 2011 - 10:17am
2 years ago
5 replies
3332 reads
Susan Mercer

I'm working with a client that has a consumer-based application to provide energy-saving tips.  There is a long questionnaire, so the system uses a lot of intelligent defaults based on what utility and third-party information the system has access to, as well as local, regional, and national averages.  

So, at first glance, the user fills out a handful of fields and gets energy-saving tips and savings estimates.  But, the more fields that they fill out with real information, instead of the defaults, the better the estimates.

We'd like a way to show which data fields are user-entered information instead of the defaults.  The best idea I've thought of is to change the value to bold and a different color.  I'm curious if others have faced similar challenges and what you've done.

Any ideas welcome.



8 Jul 2011 - 10:58am

I'm confused - you want to show the user which fields they've filled out themselves..? Surely they know that intuitively by having filled them out! Or do you mean system-side?

On the subject of assumptions though, I've seen neat solutions one of which can be seen on when you 'get quotes now' and then enter a car registration number (the first question). It says "Based on this we think you..." and gives a bullet-point list of all its default assumptions with a little link labelled "change" so the user can tweak these assumptions and make it more accurate if they want to, or continue if they're happy.

Is that at all helpful for your form? Apologies if I'm misunderstanding anything :-)

8 Jul 2011 - 12:05pm
Jodah Jensen

Hi Susan,

This does not sound like a bad idea to start with. My quick thought on this however is that, yes we see state change, but do they know what the state change means? Is the meaning just implied?


8 Jul 2011 - 6:27pm

Hi Susan,
What Jodah menioned is very important ... I would probably emphasize the meaning of the change at the beginning of the process or make it visible all along the process...

I would also use background colour rather than just the character colour to convey the status of the field:
yellow  would be default info
green would be real info
red/orange would be missing info
this way you're also dealing with the validation process.

11 Jul 2011 - 7:29am
Ann Cook

The suggestions above are good ones. I would caution against the use of red and green as the only indicator of state due to color blindness. When using red & green as indicators, I always include some other visual clue to show the difference.

We have shown default values in the fields as a gray text, compared to user-entered information as black.

11 Jul 2011 - 9:05am

True...I always ignore color blindness for some reason! :(

This saturday I had the chance to revisit a script that I ran into a while ago and made me think that could help in this case as well... have a look at reactive documents at

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