There’s a really interesting article on A List Apart at the moment by Aza Raskin entitled Never Use a Warning When you Mean Undo. It’s something that I’ve never really thought about in the past and will certainly change the way I design functionality within web pages wherever it’s feasible to implement.
I’ve always followed the guideline that when a user is performing a function that could have consequences, you should always inform them of the action they’re about to do and then ask them if they’re absolutely sure they want to perform this task.
The example springs to mind when a user is deleting something from the system and initially makes perfect sense. “Are you sure you want to delete this user?”, with the options of “yes” or “no”.
However, the article points out that experienced users have now become accustomed to these dialogue boxes and tend not to read them more often than not and it’s only after the “delete forever” button has been pressed that the user realises their mistake.
However, Aza Raskin suggests that the solution is not to try and prevent the error entirely but to ensure there is a way for a user to undo their error.
He uses Googlemail as a great example whereby it displays a dialog to check that the message should be deleted but then also provides an undo function should this action be a mistake. There’s also a storage for “trash” that can be sifted through so that any previously deleted messages can be restored.
It certainly makes sense after reading the article and is something that all designers and developers should try to implement despite the extra time and effort involved with building it into the functionality.