by Mat Janson Blanchet

Optional form elements should not be required

Posted on December 5, 2023


When form elements are optional, do not force users to select an option to opt-out, consider the lack of selection as them opting out.

This article is part of a series on user interface micro interactions and how they affect the user experience.

form labeled 'voluntary information' but both the 'gender' and the 'race' select menus are marked in error because they are mandatory
Mandatory optional select menus

Corporations and recruiters love to make their potential candidates fill forms, often to save themselves time by having systems parse and analyze candidates’ profiles instead of reading those profiles.

American corporations tend to ask candidates to reveal a lot of very private information in those forms, such as medical background, religious beliefs, marital status, gender, race. Note that some countries make it illegal for an employer to even ask those questions.

Oftentimes, those sensitive subjects are marked as optional for candidates to answer. As seen in the screenshot above however, even if the text clearly says “Voluntary Information”, the select menus are actually mandatory. I tried submitting the form without selecting an option, and the form was returned in error.

A Systems’ Analyst or a Developer might think of this design pattern as efficient, because “we want users to actively opt-out”. However, as an experience, this is jarring. First, users may not want to reveal any of that information, and the text clearly says it’s optional, why would they need to even interact with that element?

Instead, I suggest this design pattern: when form elements are optional, do not force users to select an option to opt-out, consider the lack of selection as them opting out.

Analysts and Developers should stop relying only on their systems-oriented thinking process, they should consider the subject matter of their form and forcing users to take actions about private information is not a good experience. Designers should ensure to reconsider that kind of user journey and pay attention when they see them appear.

References and Additional Readings

A Letter to Recruiters | Mat Janson Blanchet – LinkedIn

“Many design managers complain how hard it is right now to find talented designers to join their team.” | Jared Spool – Twitter

Jared Spool : Why is Hiring Great UX Professionals So Damn Hard? (January 2019) | BostonCHI – YouTube

Last updated on February 13, 2024

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