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I've had this problem a number of times: when writing an email, I accidentally click on the "send" button, thus sending an incomplete email. (E.g. in Outlook, the "send" button is alarmingly close to the "pop out" button.)

I've found a workaround for this: I just leave the "to:" field empty until I am sure that I want to send it. But this is not a nice solution.

Why don't email companies provide a fix for this? For example, why don't they leave the filling of the "to:" field until after the user has typed the email?

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Because people reply to emails more than they compose emails. They will have the same problem while replying –  Varun Achar Nov 18 '13 at 5:15
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Put a 'Format C:' button next to the Send button and that way users might be more careful about careless button clicking. :) –  JamesRyan Nov 18 '13 at 11:46
    
Related on Super User: Thunderbird “undo send” feature (like in Gmail)? –  unor Nov 18 '13 at 14:13
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5 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Where-ever possible, users should have the option to undo any action. It's inevitable that people make mistakes, however regular dialog confirmations can become ignored and confirmed out of habit - thus becoming part of the mistake.

In the case of emails: if the email was not sent immediately, the user would be able to execute an undo command (rather than having to attempt a recall command).

Real-life example: this is actually a setting in gmail:

enter image description here

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The line "has been sent" is misleading. There was no network connection made; some users may expect quasi-instant delivery. –  Deer Hunter Nov 18 '13 at 11:58
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True. However the messages follow the mental model of the user. They clicked send and expect that it has been sent immediately; and they are given the option to undo that action. You could certainly write the messages in a more factual manner ("Your email will be sent in X seconds [CANCEL SEND]"), but it would end up obscuring the meaning and user understanding. I agree with Google that it would not be a worthwhile trade-off to make. –  RedSirius Nov 18 '13 at 12:04
    
One mental model would be that the sent email has already arrived at the recipient. And by hitting undo one still wouldn't be sure if the recipient had already read the email or not @RedSirius. A sent mail is a sent mail. Its direct human communication. Some spoken words can't be undone either. Unfortunately. –  uxfelix Nov 19 '13 at 7:00
    
Perhaps the "confirmation" would be better as "You sent your message [Undo]", or even just "Message sent [Undo]" which is accurate enough and ambiguous enough. –  Andrew Leach Nov 19 '13 at 7:29
    
A better phrase would be "your message is on it's way". –  bendataclear Nov 20 '13 at 14:39
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The design problem IMO is that the send button is above the text to be entered, which usually is written top to bottom. Therefore, the logical place for the send button is at the end of the input, below the text entry field.

[edit] For consistency, it would be useful to add some extra buttons there. E.g. "Add signature", and "Check Spelling", which are also typical tasks associated with a finished email. This reinforces the fact that the buttons below the email text aren't needed early on.

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Very very true. +1'ed. –  Deer Hunter Nov 18 '13 at 12:17
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There are several things that can be done:

  1. add a guard control (a confirmation dialog, or a physical action);
  2. add spatial separation from other controls;
  3. add visually distinct elements to make the button stand out;
  4. (as RedSirius reminds, add an "Undo" capability).

From the usability standpoint, the alternative of offering a confirmation dialog (no.1) is pretty much inferior.

Constant questions "Are you sure you want to send this e-mail?" will be considered irritating most of the time, and the consequences of sending an incomplete letter are not usually grave enough to warrant an extra mouse click.

What can be done, though, is separating irreversible action buttons from the rest of the controls in the ribbon/toolbar (alternative No.2), and simultaneously making them visually distinct (font size, icon etc.) (alternative No.3).

An example of an irreversible action where guards are built into the control

Above: An example of an irreversible action where guards are built into the control (alternative No.1) . (C) Staff Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III.

An "Undo" capability (alternative No.4) should be weighed against the user's expectation of an instantaneous reaction when she does everything right. It may be frustrating to have to wait 5 seconds if your client is actually looking forward to getting an e-mail from you tout de suite.

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I think the ejector-seat analogy was first used very well by Alan Cooper, but it was more in relation to catastrophic actions such as 'delete all my documents' (+ 'are you sure' dialog); rather than more mundane errors. –  RedSirius Nov 18 '13 at 11:53
    
To that end he preferred that such options were move far away from options for typical user actions, hard to click and also clearly different in function. –  RedSirius Nov 18 '13 at 11:54
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@RedSirius - agreed, the distinction is not made clear in my post. Thanks for pointing it out. –  Deer Hunter Nov 18 '13 at 12:01
    
Nice edit. It's worth noting that email is seen as asynchronous communication (in fact, it's one of the major benefits) and so a short delay in sending is likely to go unnoticed by the recipient(s). –  RedSirius Nov 18 '13 at 12:43
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Since email sending is intrinsically asynchronous and one-way, there is no way to undo the actual message sending process. One possible way to avoid accidental email sending, is to set a time-delay (couple of minutes will do) before the actual sending process begins to do its work. This will provide you enough time to call off sending just by deleting items from the "outbox" folder.

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I agree with you on this issue but I somehow like the system. I can clearly recognize communication partners who respect our communication by taking their time double-checking their outgoing content which I am likely to read. They actually care about me, showing dignity in our business or private relationship.

To answer your question: The easiest solution to speed up the users workflow was implemented and never touched since: fire and forget. And maybe it was never changed to keep the metaphor of direct response as is in real life. If you say something wrong to someone you can't hit cmd-z or ctrl-z either. As is with sending texts.

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