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This has been discussed a few times on here for web implementations but never for a desktop application. Being we have a title bar/file menu/toolbar etc. what is the best practice for closing a window and saving?

I believe I know the correct answer but this is what I'm dealing with, I'm working on a windows application and someone raised an "issue" of being prompted when closing the window to Save/Don't Save/Cancel (only if changes were made) pretty standard right? if you make a change you should prompt the user when closing if they really meant to close with/without saving their changes, after all this is for a medical application where doctors spend hours writing a diagnosis/resulting!

They requested I add a "Exit with Saving" and "Exit without Saving" button to our existing toolbar which would bypass the prompt. (get rid of the "extra click")

I can't justify putting something that destructive on the UI, after all we aren't simply writing yelp reviews here!

I've seen discussions on never merging the Save and Exit functionality and I believe bypassing this prompt completely goes against any good UX practices! There is no undo functionality or versioning so this prompt is our only safety net in discarding changes.

So a few questions here:

  • Should Exit/Close buttons ever be put on the UI when they exist on title bar/file menu etc?
  • Should Exit and Save/Exit without Saving ever be merged in software?
  • Should there ever be a button on the UI to bypass these prompts?

Any help justifying these standards would be much appreciated :) Thanks

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3 Answers

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They requested I add a "Exit with Saving" and "Exit without Saving" button to our existing toolbar which would bypass the prompt. (get rid of the "extra click")

The entire purpose of that dialog is to create an extra click!

In situations where the user could lose work, you have to protect against an accidental click. This is where the Save/Don't Save/Cancel dialog comes in. It gives the user the exact three choices that they need at the time.

The user is basically saying "Hey, can I have a gun so I can shoot myself in the foot?". If you put those buttons in, you will be saying "Sure, here you go!".

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I found another valid argument for not removing these prompts in software. These in fact prevent Windows from shutting down/closing your unsaved work! I can think of numerous times an unscheduled reboot (software updates/maintenance) has almost caused me to lose work if it wasn't for these prompts staying on the screen asking "Do you want to save your changes?" before shutting the system down. And on that note it's also saved me from NOT saving those changes I didn't want to keep. Software should never assume you want to commit changes for you, keep a backup in case of a crash? absolutely!... –  bfritz Aug 14 '13 at 18:48
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It is expected that Close button should always be present in the UI -- usually in the form of the little "x" button in the top right corner (or top left if you're on MacOS). There is generally no need to add extra "quit" button to the toolbar.

Now as for other possible buttons, you must understand that there is always a possibility for someone to click that button by mistake. This is why all buttons that perform "dangerous" actions come with a confirmation popup. Having "Exit without saving" button is dangerous, even if it can be sometimes convenient. The possibility of mistake is aggravated in this case because there is a similarly labeled "Exit with saving" button right next to it.

As I understand, in your case you have an application where losing one's work can have disastrous consequences. Which is why the best course of action would be to emphasize to your client/boss the necessity of Undo/Versioning functionality.

The best UX would be to:

  • On exit, save the changes automatically (without any confirmation dialog -- people are notoriously bad at clicking the right button in a confirmation box, especially after they've seen it a few thousand times). When doing this, present a non-interactive splash screen "saving changes", so that the users can learn that whenever they close the application all changes are saved automatically.
  • Add "Discard any changes" button to toolbar / menu, which may either use a popup confirmation, or allow users to undo this action if they see they didn't mean to press this button (in which case, again, you must make it obvious to the user what just happened -- for example providing an infobox popup or splash screen, etc.)

In general, confirmation pop-ups (especially if they appear on a frequent action) should be avoided at all costs because: (1) they annoy people, (2) on those rare occasions when they are supposed to save the day, they fail to work because of the force of habit.

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You don't want to save automatically on exit in case the user doesn't want the changes that were made. This is just as destructive as not saving changes that are desired. –  17 of 26 Aug 12 '13 at 20:47
    
I agree auto-save has been discussed on here pretty thoroughly about being just as destructive, unless accompanied with versioning/undo history in which this application currently does not yet support. –  bfritz Aug 12 '13 at 20:59
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I've seen [Save] and [Cancel] buttons with icons to make them more obvious... but usually even then there is usually a warning prompt on the cancel. The problem is, if you don't have that prompt somewhere, the user not only could loose work - but doesn't have feedback to which one they clicked.

One option is to provide a user setting that gets rid of the dialog. But I usually make the user specifically select this option. They take responsibility for any lost work at that point - and usually people that choose this option are ok with that.

So to explicitly answer the questions: Should Exit/Close buttons ever be put on the UI when they exist on title bar/file menu etc? - No, they are already on the UI... although on the bottom of the screen, maybe

Should Exit and Save/Exit without Saving ever be merged in software? - Usually not. If you do, be consistent.

Should there ever be a button on the UI to bypass these prompts? - No, but user options to bypass the prompts are ok.

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