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We have a form which has Save/Cancel buttons down at its bottom. A part of this form is managing a collection of file attachments. The user can add, open and delete as many files as she likes.

Should the Save/Cancel buttons determine whether changes made to the file attachments are saved or discarded? Or would users expect that these changes are automatically and independently saved, since they entail file operations?

Our form with file attachment management

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2 Answers

Should the Save/Cancel buttons determine whether changes made to the file attachments are saved or discarded? Or would users expect that these changes are automatically and independently saved, since they entail file operations?

It actually depends on how you will display these changes.

Apply/Cancel behaviour should differentiate applied changes from changes which aren't yet saved thus helping user to understand the workflow (modify then apply/save, unsaved changes will be lost, etc).

Or, otherwise, you may apply all the changes immediately and provide ability to undo operations (no save/cancel button; gmail uses this approach).

So, in a case you're going with "Apply/Cancel" approach you should think about how to show your users that some changes aren't yet applied (activating Apply/Save buttons and marking file attachments as "new" or "unsaved", etc should be enough).

I recommend you to join details and file attachments at the single screen like it's done, for example, at gmail, so your users will be aware of all the changes (including file attachments) from the first sight:

enter image description here

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In an ideal world I would like to be able to edit the attachments to my record and then undo that... to restore my record to how it was, including all attachments. if we are treating attachment operations as totally separate and permanent then I have no buttons to undo that.

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As you said, "in an ideal world". The whole reason I asked this question is because the engineers told me this is how the system works, and I wonder if there is an impact on the usability. –  Dvir Adler Feb 12 '13 at 12:29
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what I am saying is that your engineers would not be too challenged to create versioning of files so that when they are deleted or overwritten in an 'attachment' operation and the user clicks 'cancel' then the back end can restore the original files as attached to the record - also when a new file is uploaded it sure is uploaded as a file operation but until Save is clicked then it is not attached to your record - this is ideal and perhaps not too far fetched? Good luck with your engineers :) –  A Macdonald Feb 12 '13 at 20:59
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