Cross-posted from http://blogs.msdn.com/abhinaba/archive/2005/06/26/432832.aspx
How do you communicate to users which fields on a UI is required and which is optional? This was the questions I was trying to answer while implmenting the Team Build Type creation wizard. Though there exists some common conventions in Web forms like marking the fields with asterix and putting something like "Fields marked with an asterix * are required" somewhere on top, there seems to exist no convention to do this on Windows user interfaces.
In team system the work item tracking UI does this by making the background color of the required fields with the same color as tooltip (yellow) and then as soon as the user types in some thing in them the color changes back to window backgorund color (white). So the user can quckly review the form and can locate fields that are left to be filled as they are marked with a different color (yellow).
I liked this idea a lot and wanted to do the same thing with our wizard and Start build forms. But could'nt get that approved by the User Experience team becuase they think that on wizards the visual cue should come from the enabling of the Next button. The idea is that once the user has filled in all the required fields in the page Next should get enabled so that he can move to the next page. I think this works well only when the number of controls on the Wizard page is less, other wise the user will keep trying to guess why the next button in not getting enabled. Since wizard guideline clearly calls out against crowding too many things in one page, I guess this is fine but still think we should move towards a common guideline on marking required fields and I think the background color change is a fine way of doing just that.