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I have read around a few places that confirmation messages are not the best way to go about warning users, it's best to let them do whatever they want but give them the option to go back. I thought this probably applies to deleting things a bit, since if you click the button you've decided you want the thing deleted and having to click to confirm is just an extra step (what percentage of users click 'no' on that confirmation screen I wonder...)

I'm working on a web app where the user is managing items in a list. Instead of having a confirmation when the when the user clicks delete, I'm contemplating a couple of different approaches:

  1. I was thinking the item goes grey and says [deleted] but there is an Undo button. Then after several seconds (maybe 6?) the list item fades out and the items below it move up. (I think it would be irritating to have them hang around still, because often people want to get rid of those deleted things and not have to have them hanging around.)

  2. The other approach I thought of having is a 'Recently deleted' section at the bottom from which things can be restored, and clear items out after a few days. And in that case have the items just remove from the list instantly. I'm worried in that case though that the link between the disappeared list item and the link at the bottom will not be obvious enough to be intuitive.

The list will likely have its own scrollbar, but it could get quite long.

Do either of these approaches sound reasonable? Is there a better way to avoid having a confirmation message? Or just I just keep the confirmation message?

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Maybe you can also get some interesting answers to the How to guide in removing something non critical question. –  Lode Aug 17 '11 at 7:57
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3 Answers

up vote 15 down vote accepted

If you're going to have an undo button, don't make it something that disappears after a few seconds. Put it there until the user takes some other action. The ideas of making the item grey and having a temporary list is good thinking, but rather than do that, why not just have a permanent "deleted items" list on a separate screen? That way I can always go there to see and undo things I've deleted. What's stopping you?

The thing about confirmation messages is that they were built because it was technically complicated to create undo for destructive actions like delete. So instead you were forced to warn users about things up front to prevent them from losing data. Today (and with the Web), things aren't as complicated, and you should be able to implement undo functionality relatively easily.

If you want an example, Gmail has been doing this since it launched. Delete a message and it vanishes from your inbox - but a message immediately pops up (as with any action) asking if you want to undo. If you take another action, that message vanishes, but you can still go to your Trash and see deleted messages for the past 30 days. I'd recommend following their example.

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In Windows file explorer, you also have an option to not display confirmation message if you just do a normal delete (move to bin), but you do get message if you choose to delete permanent (Shift-Delete). –  awe Aug 16 '11 at 10:42
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Well, the confirmation dialogue is really there as an error prevention mechanism; similarly the undo method Rahul mentions above is an error recovery mechanism. Both are used to protect the user from losing work; they are not mutually exclusive and they do not always have to be used in tandem. My advice is weigh up the frequency of task with how serious the error state is: some error states are simply very hard to recover from eg disk wipe, where others might just require the user to insert an object back into the system.

I say with common tasks where the error is not deathly serious and where constant prompting may interrupt workflow, go for the undo option. For rare tasks like "take off and nuke it from orbit" have a confirm prompt followed by an undo if the system allows the undo.

Incidentally, I've worked on a system where there has been a *command of type "take off and nuke it from orbit" with no option for undo. I had two confirm prompts "are you crazy?" and "are you absolutely sure? well, don't say we didn't warn you"...

*eg a game where the last possible option was self preservation at the cost of destroying the station.

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obviously you don't want to use sentences like "are you crazy" on an accounting program or word processor application! –  colmcq Aug 15 '11 at 14:24
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+1 for confirm and undo on 'nuke it from orbit'. I assume defence and aerospace companies have a list of best practice they keep quietly to themselves :-) –  Roger Attrill Aug 15 '11 at 14:26
    
@colmcq: Why don't you want it? I like applications that speak to me like a human rather than a machine. –  JohnGB Sep 23 '11 at 8:58
    
depends on the industry –  colmcq Sep 23 '11 at 23:20
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Some users would feel unsafe if they don't get a confirmation message before delete, and others find the extra step annoying.

Other answers here give good approaches on how to do it without confirmation message, but in any approach you should have a user setting in the system that enables the user to select for themselves if they want the with or without confirmation message.

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