Imposing text limit in form without affecting old data

  • We have a form with fields below:

    • Code
    • Item Name
    • Description

    When we reviewed the list of 'Code' in customer database, we noticed that the 'Code' values tends to be quite long. It seems like the users use the 'Code' field to input descriptions.


    • Code: USA10012002
    • Item Name: Drain Filter Separator
    • Description: Element: 5 micron Bowl Construction : Metal Drain : Automatic Max Pressure : 175 PSIG Max Temp. : 120°F (49°C)

    Outcome from users:

    • Code: USA10012002 Drain Filter Separator Element: 5 micron Bowl Construction : Metal Drain : Automatic Max Pressure : 175 PSIG Max Temp. : 120°F (49°C)
    • Item Name: Drain Filter Separator
    • Description: -

    We plan to now add a text limit for 'Code' to encourage users to use the fields correctly and utilize the Description field as supposed to.

    However, how will this impact the existing users that have been using 'Code' as 'Descriptions'?

    [Update as of 27/05/2022] I believe one of the contributing factor where users use 'Code' as 'Description' is because the 'Description' field comes later in the sequence. We also realised we have 2 'Description' fields. One is in the 'Sell' section and one in the 'Buy' section. Expectation: (Item: Box), Buy(Price: $5.00, Description: Always buy in bulk from Jennifer), Sell(Price: $8.00, Description: Please add company logo to box). While users actually want to put item descriptions such as dimension, specs, etc. Something our team need to relook.

  • It’s great that you’re asking yourself what to do with existing data, this is often overlooked. Also, reviewing data in the database is a great way to determine users’ actual behavior.

    Do it the UX way (user centred)

    Trying to change users’ habits by simply forbidding what they are doing (entering long descriptions in the code field) rarely results in a good user experience.

    I would recommend to try and understand the (users’) problem and its context well before deciding what to change.

    What exactly is motivating users to enter that long text in the code field?

    • it’s simply the first field in the form?
    • is the form field’s length suggesting a longer text is expected?
    • is an explanation of the expected format missing in the label?
    • are users copying that data from somewhere, where the code is next to that description?
    • is it because that value is used later in the process and more useful to them that way? F.e. is it the only datum shown in a list later?
    • for other, unknown reasons?

    A might be the method of choice, where you are observing users fill the form in their natural habitat, e.g. at their office computer, while actually doing their job.

    This might also help you determine the user’s journey and see where the data comes from and how it’s being reused, and maybe identifying solutions that are even more helpful.

    If the limit still is the go-to-solution

    Without knowing how that data is re-used by the users, it’s hard to recommend some solution.

    Some options that come to mind:

    • Move the long code values to the description field where it’s empty in the database
    • If codes follow a regular expression
      • Run another query which only keeps the valid part in the code field
      • Add a validation to the code field as well, along with a label that gives an example of what is expected. Like Code, e.g. USA10012002
    • Inform users of the affected datasets and encourage them to review that datasets
    • Move the Description field to the top of the form
    • Automatically filter the code by means of regular expressions when text is copied to the field

    Hope this helps

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