OK then Cancel, or Cancel then OK?

August 23, 2008

One of the annoyances I come across when using a software or web application is inconsistency in placement of the OK/Cancel buttons. Some have OK first (on the left) and Cancel last (to the right of OK); others have them the other way round. And some switch depending on the window (MYOB is notorious for this!), which is totally confusing!

While this placement issue is not large in the scheme of things, it *is* an annoyance and it makes the user hesitate. The worst case is where the user clicks the button expecting it to behave in a certain way because of its position and their familiarity and expectation of what will happen when they click, say, the left-most button. When that button does the unexpected, the user gets frustrated. A small frustration, but frustration nonetheless. And a small amount of productive time is lost while they figure out what went wrong, how to fix it, and how to get back on track.

A few months ago, Jakob Nielsen wrote an interesting article on the placement of the OK and Cancel buttons. His advice: Follow the user interface guidelines of the operating system:

  • For Windows, that means OK is first (on the left) and Cancel is last (on the right).
  • For Macs, Cancel is first (left) and OK is last (right).

One comment

  1. You’d think that MS, Apple, Sun, and others would at least standardize things at that level. I’m sure MS and Apple each have their own rock solid, well-researched, scientific evidence why they are right and the other is wrong…

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