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Let's say a user wants to perform an action that requires him to be logged in (e.g. sending a private message) so a link is provided to him to log in with a message similar to the following:

Only registered users can perform this action. If you have an account, log in.

Should the user be redirected back to the send private message screen after the authentication process (log in)?

In other words:

  1. Send private message screen (user unauthenticated)
  2. Log in
  3. Send private message screen (user authenticated)

Is this the most user-accessible way to keep the user doing what he originally intended to, without breaking his flow?

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up vote 12 down vote accepted

Try shopping anything on amazon without logging in first.

Browse -> pickout the item -> add to card -> proceed to check-out -> log-in -> continue with address selection and payment.

Amazon can easily be the top player who needs to worry about user flow and logging in :) So, YES, login should just be a step outside the flow and back in i.e.

find person -> click message -> login -> type message and send.

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Yeah, you are right. I was expecting to hear different opinion because this requires more work to implement :P Good example with Amazon btw. If someone has to get user flow right it is them – federicot May 1 '13 at 22:57
@JohnDoe Hah! Should've mentioned that in the question. 'Why not to do this ...' ;) – rk. May 1 '13 at 23:05
Two strategies seem to converge in the Amazon example: Having the user commit to (and complete) the action before requiring more info (i.e. login info); and only requiring info when it is needed (i.e. just-in-time). So the login would be find person > click message > type message > login > send. – uxzapper May 1 '13 at 23:30

This isn't always an option, but you could provide the log in as a panel or overlay without ever experientially leaving the page.

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