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Details:

The application is a form based application. The form elements are arranged in Grids. Each of the Grids encapsulate related set of fields. Now the question is related to cancel buttons. There are about 100 editable elements in a single form. The user makes some changes to the screen and these changes are maintained in the browser session and persisted only when the user clicks on the save button.

Problem:

The Usability expert in our team insists on having atomized cancel buttons. That is each of the grids can have its own independent cancel button. The problem is bad as is if this is a single form, but the application can contain multiple tabbed forms. So we need to write a lot of logic to maintain atomic states and track each changes individually; I wanted to know if any of you have any opinion on working with a requirement like this. Is this requirement justifiable? or does it contribute to good usability.

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Any chance of a screenshot or a wireframe? –  Matt Obee Nov 8 '12 at 15:51
    
Sure.. I will check with the team regarding any privacy concerns. –  doc_180 Nov 8 '12 at 15:53
    
"There are about 100 editable elements in a single form" how many are typically edited? Without knowing more specifics, that seems like a very daunting UI. –  DA01 Nov 8 '12 at 19:27
    
Hard to tell without seeing a mockup, but the problem sounds complicated enough to require user testing to really get it optimal. –  obelia Nov 8 '12 at 20:34

2 Answers 2

up vote 2 down vote accepted

From your explanations I guess your GUI is structured like the left mockup below. There are numerous editable fields. Sometimes the user wants to undo the changes he has made to certain fields. Surely it would be annoying if the user had to undo all changes, while actually wanting to reset one field (and he has forgotten the previous value of the field).

mockup

download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

If this is the intention of the cancel-Buttons, I would go even further and add a "RESET"-Button next to each field (to be seen in the right mockup). In this case "RESET" means retrieving the old value (not clearing the field).

You could show or highlight the button, if the user has made changes to the fields. This way he can see his changes at a glance.

Of course, it's a little bit overhead to add all the buttons - but if your users intensively work with the forms and are likely to make wrong changes or often want to undo changes, than it might help and you will be closer to the goal of the user than with the cancel buttons.

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It does contribute to user control - but it is possible that it detracts from the user experience.

Not only are you running the risk of offering too many choices/options/interactions, but you're risking visual clutter.

If this is a form that was previously completed offline with older clients, you have a strong business case to avoid cluttering up the interface.

The usability expert may be approaching the design from an accessibility standpoint.

In other words, they may not be focused on design.

In my experience, decision-makers with no design background will opt to give more options, features and choice because it appears to gives more flexibility to the end user. It also gives them flexibility for later changes, or it addresses a specific problem they've encountered in another product (that isn't relevant here).

Also, there aren't any absolute guidelines in design (or user experience).

There are many things to avoid - but a lot of grey areas and solutions that only apply to specific conditions.

If the usability expert claims this is the best case, and you have an alternative point of view ... you both might be right without being able to agree.

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