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When attempting to cancel a service or setting, "cancel" is the default action. What should the normal "cancel" button be called?

Redbox uses a playful "just kidding", which may not be appropriate in all circumstances.

enter image description here

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Related: ux.stackexchange.com/questions/24051 –  Pesikar Mar 4 '13 at 7:59
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Skype has a good example of what not to do –  Roger Attrill Mar 4 '13 at 8:27
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How about Yes / No ? –  user117 Mar 4 '13 at 14:44
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Related ux.stackexchange.com/questions/9946/… –  aromero Mar 4 '13 at 22:51
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Inspired by Heng-Cheong Leong's answer and deworde's critique on it: Never use the word «Cancel». For downloads say «Stop downloading» and «Continue downloading». To cancel a setting or not, say «Revert settings» and «Leave settings as is», and so on... –  nalply Mar 5 '13 at 13:00

12 Answers 12

up vote 288 down vote accepted

My suggestion: never use the word "Cancel" in the default action.

To cancel a subscription, you can, for example, say "Remove Subscription" or "Unsubscribe."

To cancel a download, you can, for example, say "Stop Downloading".

To cancel a setting, you can, for example, say "Revert Settings".

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I agree with this answer the most; users are conditioned for "Cancel" to always be the safe way out of where they currently are. Using it for a button with a destructive outcome is a terrible idea. –  Kit Grose Mar 4 '13 at 4:48
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-1: Doesn't answer the question. The question is not "what to call confirm", but "what to call cancel". If the question is, as above, "Are You Sure?", you've answered what to call "Yes", but not what to call "No" –  deworde Mar 4 '13 at 9:23
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"Yes"/"No" buttons are not good UI. –  Heng-Cheong Leong Mar 4 '13 at 9:57
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@KitGrose Not good, as if you're planning to cancel a subscription, having any button labelled "Cancel" is confusing. The assumption is that "Cancel" always means "Don't Do X", whereas in this case, "Cancel" is what I want to do. –  deworde Mar 4 '13 at 12:00
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I'm inclined to agree with this answer. Also, to answer the actual question, I've seen a few sites use the wording "Never mind" to back out of a "Do you want to cancel X?" dialog. –  Owen Blacker Mar 4 '13 at 12:35

Here's what Facebook does when cancelling a payment subscription (Facebook subscription API).

There's no reliance on Yes/No. There's no misleading use of the word cancel. Clear explanation and buttons that clearly define the impending action.

enter image description here

Then they clearly confirm what just happened.

enter image description here

Skype on the other hand shows what not to do. Much confusion!

enter image description here


Edit: Microsoft have since changed Skype's Cancel button to say Close. It's a pretty lazy effort at improving the situation, but at least it doesn't say Cancel any more!

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+1 for the Skype example, that's truly terrible! –  Eyvind Mar 4 '13 at 10:48
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Skype expect you to say "OK, cancel." –  Alvin Wong Mar 4 '13 at 12:22
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Oh wow. Dialogs like that skype one make me very glad that I can always fallback on the 'red x'. –  Nico Burns Mar 5 '13 at 0:19
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Especially painful because they even demonstrate a perfectly adequate synonym, "reject". –  Steve Bennett Mar 6 '13 at 0:00
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@JClaussFTW: I bet that this dialog is one made by a programmer, not by a UI designer. –  André Dec 27 '13 at 15:53

Name the buttons for what they do. If the default is "cancel", then cancel the cancel should be something simple like "Don't cancel".

I know that it's not ideal to use the word 'cancel' in both of them, but it's the clearest option in this unique situation, and clarity is far more important.

Edit: Some good suggestions from the comments below are to specify what it is that you are cancelling, and to use a term that doesn't include the word cancel - such as "Keep Subscription".

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I think this answer makes sense, but only if the buttons (rather wordily) say "Cancel Subscription" and "Don't Cancel Subscription". Otherwise you have people who will click "Cancel" out of instinct to dismiss the window and will inadvertently perform a destructive action. –  Kit Grose Mar 4 '13 at 4:46
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@KitGrose - I'd say "Keep Subscription" rather than "Don't cancel" –  Nathan Long Mar 4 '13 at 13:30
    
@KitGrose good suggestion. I added it to the answer. –  JohnGB Mar 4 '13 at 14:35
    
@NathanLong Also, a good point. –  JohnGB Mar 4 '13 at 14:36

Rewording

I would try my very, very best to avoid using the term 'cancel' for terminating the subscription. Cancel is generally considered to be a safe action. Here, you are using it in a more destructive sense, thus causing the confusion you noticed.

If you manage to avoid the term 'cancel' for the actual activity, you can resume to use it for the cancel action on the dialog. In the mockup below, I used "Unsubscribe", but you can also consider other ways to express this like "terminate", "end", "remove" or "stop" subscription.

mockup

download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

Not confirming at all

Alternatively, you could consider getting rid of the confirmation message completely. Instead, you could display something like this:

mockup

download bmml source

You could then also send the users a message by email saying essentially the same thing, and also allowing them to change their mind for a limited time.

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+1 for adding the "I changed my mind" link in the resulting dialog. –  Owen Blacker Mar 4 '13 at 12:36
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+1 for the second example. –  zzzzBov Mar 4 '13 at 23:31
    
The first diagram's coloring, to me, is misleading. The positive affirmative action is the unsubscribe, and the green on the Cancel is counter-intuitive. Something to think about and test. –  trisweb Mar 5 '13 at 14:31
    
@trisweb: I did not spend a lot of time carefully thinking the colors through, to be honest. The reasoning was that the unsubscribe is the destructive option, while the save option is the cancel option. However, I guess you are right, and this does require more thought and testing before putting it in use. Good think that that wasn't the main point I wanted to make :-) –  André Mar 5 '13 at 14:44
    
+1 for undo option –  Lothar_K Mar 6 '13 at 9:13

Use something like "No, I want to keep my subscription" and "Yes, cancel my subscription".
This way the button clearly says what it does. Otherwise people would think that 'Cancel' stands for Cancelling the Dialog Box

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I think that keeping Yes and No in the buttons still causes confusion though. –  JonW Mar 4 '13 at 9:54
    
If you use a title like "Cancel Subscription?", this would no longer be ambiguous. –  GroundZero Jan 13 at 18:02

Keep Subscription

Avoid generic defaults (Cancel/Ok, Yes/No): label the buttons with what they actually do!

mockup

download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

Pretend users do not like to read the dialog-text and with luck perhaps 5 or 7 syllables per button. Be short, be clear, use positive imperatives. Avoid negation like "do not cancel my unsubscription" or "don't cancel". Place visual highlight on the option that the user requested, as it is done by UX itself (compare Save Edits and Cancel).

Explanation Other answers already questioned the usefulness of this dialog in the first place, since your question specifically ask for the button text I will forgo this discussion and just point out that offering an undo is often a better option than a confirmation dialog.

My observation is that people often scan or quick-read instead of really studying the text on screen. This is also discussed in this UX thread Should alert boxes be avoided at any cost? Minor and not so minor details are often overlooked, such as a little "not".

Apart from just overlooking the little words on screen, it has been shown that negative statements are notoriously difficult to understand. For examples senior citizen have trouble when medicine comes with instructions as of what not to do, children are bound to do what you tell them not to do, or see the Debunking Handbook why you should not repeat what not to say.

Generic Yes/No buttons can become very confusing, when considering questions such as "Don't you have password?" As you observed a similar reasoning holds for Cancel and Ok buttons.

Finally consider that your audience might have their attention reduced, so keep the button text short, clear and simple. Consider someone stressed and tired: have mercy and be parsimonious with words. This may result in a certain tension between accurate and clear labels on one side and being short, sharp and simple on the other, here a certain finickiness is required to find the right words for a good compromise.

“I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” -- Mark Twain

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I would like to propose a different approach to subscription cancellation.

Instead of confirming that they want to unsubscribe, assume that they were acting intentionally:

Unsubscription dialog mockup

If the user doesn't click on any buttons on the dialog, they should be unsubscribed in an hour or five. If they dismiss the dialog with the "goodbye" or "(x)" buttons, they should also be unsubscribed in an hour or five.

If the user clicks on the "oops..." button, they should not be unsubscribed. This allows the user to make the fewest number of steps to unsubscribe from whatever service they're subscribed to.

More often than not I find myself having to sort out how to unsubscribe from annoying marketing emails, and it would be wonderful if I could spend less time confirming that "yes [insert service here]'s email is a spammy pile of junk and I no longer want to receive it"

The other important point to make, is that this is your opportunity to win people back. If someone's leaving because of a small bug that can be easily fixed, it's better to find out sooner rather than later.

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+1: Better process. –  deworde Mar 5 '13 at 9:35
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I kind of feel like the "Oops, I didn't want to unsubscribe" should be the green icon in this case. More for marketing purposes than for ux. It makes me want to click the "Goodbye" option. Nonetheless, I think it's a good idea. –  dom Mar 5 '13 at 18:11
    
I love actually just doing what the user asked to do and then providing an undo in case of an accidental click. I wish I could up this a few more times. –  Matt Lavoie Mar 6 '13 at 13:45
    
I'd make the Oops green, and not even bother with the Goodbye. I think the X in the top right is enough (might make it bigger and red though.) –  aslum Mar 6 '13 at 17:06

I think that the shown image had a good idea of emulating the user's thoughts, some other good ideas would be: Nevermind Abort Undo Done Get me out of here! Call off Zap

IMO: Nevermind and Done are the best.

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I believe "Yes" and "No" buttons would be best, provided that the title of the window is clear. For example:

Cancel Subscription?

You chose to cancel your subscription, are you sure?

"Yes" and "No" buttons would be very clear in this case.

Why is this better than other options?

  1. The question is short, clear and can't be interpreted in more than one way. Yes it does require that the user read the title, but the question is so short and clear it is read at a glance.
  2. This approach also gets the user's attention, which is a good thing, as he's about to cancel a subscription, so you want to make sure he's aware of what he's doing.
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Perhaps Yes and No in context would be better, like "Yes, cancel my subscription" and "No, don't cancel my subscription". However, the downside would be ending up with larger buttons. –  Adam-E Mar 4 '13 at 10:55
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"Yes" and "No" buttons are never clear, because they require the user read the dialog text. –  chaiguy Mar 7 '13 at 21:38

What about just going with the answers to the question "Are you sure"? You can just say yes/no, or if you want then you can be more personal/user-friendly and do:

YES - go ahead and NO - changed my mind

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tl;dr Never use the word «Cancel».

Why is the word «Cancel» so problematic?? «Cancel» can be understood differently in different conceptual levels:

  1. Cancel the dialog and close it.
  2. Cancel the service.

What happens when the two levels have contradicting, exactly opposite meanings? Examples:

  • For a dialog to cancel downloads «OK» means canceling the download and «Cancel» continuing the download!
  • For a dialog to reset to factory settings «OK» means canceling any changes you've made in the settings and «Cancel» not cancelling them!
  • For a dialog to cancel a subscription «OK» means canceling the subscription (duh!) and «Cancel» does not!

Solution: Don't use the word «Cancel». Examples:

  • «Stop downloading» and «Continue downloading»
  • «Reset» and «Leave as is».
  • «Unsubscribe» and «Keep Subscription».

See http://ux.stackexchange.com/a/35844/28034, a very similar answer of mine.

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You can use a less seen and most spoken "Forget It" or "Leave It"

An end user is always confused of buttons, whether OK, UPDATE, CLOSE, CANCEL etc. For example, if he goes to an "Edit Profile" page and sees a button cancel, he might think that he is going to cancel his account as such. So colloquial words would be more appropriate than conventional as far as websites are concerned.

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Why would this be a good option? Can you add some explanation here as its not a very useful answer without some reasoning and explanation. –  JonW Mar 4 '13 at 14:16
    
Yes. An end user is always confused of buttons, whether OK, UPDATE, CLOSE, CANCEL etc. For example, if he goes to an "Edit Profile" page and sees a button cancel, he might think that he is going to cancel his account as such. So colloquial words would be more appropriate than conventional as far as websites are concerned. –  Venugopal M Mar 4 '13 at 14:38
    
@VenugopalM You should add that to your answer. Always try give an answer that helps people understand why they should do X or Y. –  JohnGB Mar 4 '13 at 15:02
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Those sorts of buttons could confuse those who are new to the English language and not familiar with common expressions such as "forget it" and "leave it." –  paraxor Mar 4 '13 at 17:40

protected by JonW Mar 4 '13 at 14:16

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