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I am working on a government web application. We have specified in the style guide that buttons will be used for primary actions and other secondary actions within the page will use hyperlinks. There are also navigation links withing the page.

In the application, almost every page has several secondary actions and one or more "primary" actions that may warrant a button. The reasons we decided to use links for secondary controls are:

  1. Draw focus to the primary actions
  2. Avoid cluttering the UI with buttons thus making it look busy.

My questions are:

  • Do you think it might confuse users to use hyperlinks for navigation and action controls on the same page?
  • Would it avoid the confusion if they are labeled clearly enough?
  • Would it solve the problem if we use a visually less prominent button for the secondary actions (secondary buttons) and leave the links for navigation ONLY?
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2 Answers 2

up vote 2 down vote accepted

It could be really confusing if the distinction between what is command link and what is navigation link is not really clear. Action Links or Command Links are best if they do not look like links, eg by font & styling, physical separation from other links, labeling, terminology, adjacent icon, etc. But they do have their place if not overused, are kept to secondary actions and do not have major consequences - as Nielsen describes.

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My go-to answer is to use an icon for text links that are actually secondary actions. Agreeing with the need to set them apart from the navigation somehow. –  sirtimbly Sep 6 '11 at 22:07

Making the distinction between primary and secondary actions like that is dangerous and poor UX. One user could think that what you consider secondary is primary to them and visa versa.

Actions should consistently look like actions, however you may style them differently by varying colour, font weight, font size, icons, or shape.

I tend to colour the primary action and keep all secondary actions in a default colour, but then I'm mostly thinking of mobile applications.

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