Tag Archives: GNOME

The great OK/Cancel button dilemma

Today I created a simple web form. So simple indeed that it has only three design elements:

Turquoise Ceramic Buttons
Image by panavatar via Flickr
  • input field
  • OK button, in this case labeled “Save”
  • Cancel button

Since I’m always confused about the order of OK  – Cancel buttons (you, should it be OK / Cancel or Cancel / OK), I checked a few dialogs around my OS X and they all read Cancel / OK.

I personally prefer the second option, as I usually like to confirm my dialog boxes and it’s much easier to hit OK in down right corner vs. finding the item next to it.

Second choice it’s probably that I’m brainwashed from seeing this choice all the time on my Mac.

After showing my choices to the person in charge, I got the obvious feedback: “Reverse the Cancel / OK button”.

Fine! (I change the button order and go looking in various HIG documents).

Here are results:

Apple’s HIG states:

Always put the action button in the bottom-right corner of the alert. This is the button that completes the action that the user initiated before the alert was displayed. [ed. note: this would make it Cancel / OK]

GNOME’s HIG states:

Show a Cancel button that will prevent authentication and close the alert. Place this button to the immediate left of the OK or equivalent button. [ed. note: this would make it Cancel / OK]

Place command buttons that apply to all property pages at the bottom of the property window. Right-align the buttons and use this order (from left to right): OK, Cancel, and Apply. [ed. note: this makes it OK / Cancel]
KDE’s HIG doesn’t state anything (or at least I couldn’t find it), but it seems that it standardizes on OK / Cancel.
So here we have two camps. The OK / Cancel one is clearly bigger because of the whole Windows platform using this convention. I’ll leave out different argumentations out of this document, as it’s kind of a holy war between certain UX factions.
Interesting thing with this issue is that it doesn’t matter, as long as you standardize. Nobody managed to measure any difference as long as it was the same across the whole environment.
But what to do in case of Web applications, where you can’t standardize the whole Internet? Jakob Nielsen thinks that you should go with the option that is natural to more of your users.
At the end of the day, this translates to use OK / Cancel as majority of your users will probably be on Windows or KDE, unless you’re running some kind of OS specific niche site. Even then you should only switch if you’re working for OS X crowd as you can’t really know Window Manager usage distribution of your users.
What about you? Do you OK / Cancel or Cancel / OK things? Or are you just constantly twitching because that OK never feels right?
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