I had this question related to the redirect buttons. Some apps or websites need time to save data before making a redirect or load some content. Usually, an action from the user can't help. In these actions, a loader or a progress bar help the user see the progress. I was wondering if a "redirect" or a "refresh" button really has benefits.

I did some research and I read this article, "Idiot Buttons: The Placebo in UX Design" and this question from 6 years ago, "Examples of placebos in UI design?".

I realized it is the same case for the "save" buttons because most apps auto-saves everything and I read this interesting answer for the question "Why don't we auto-save for users instead of having them save manually?":

In Marketo, the app auto-saves everything. We have very few "Save" actions.

However, interesting side-effect. In the email editor, some users were so panicked that there was no "Save and close" button, that we added one.

All these articles and question have some good arguments to use placebo buttons, but all the studies I found are from 2-6 years ago. In the last years, people use a lot of apps with autosave or other automate actions.

A placebo button is one more element on the screen and can be replaced with a "info" message, but this will be enough? What do you think?

What are the best practices, in this case, to keep the UI familiar and give to the user the illusion of control or to keep it simple?

  • This other question from this month might be relevant. – Alvaro Jan 30 '17 at 10:03
  • @Alvaro The answer to that question illustrates the fact a part of the users can be concerned losing some data, but my question was more related to the issue to add or not to add a useless element just to give the user the fake illusion of control. – Madalina Taina Jan 30 '17 at 10:13

In other kind of software (I'm thinking of AutoCAD) there is an autosave option, which doesn't work exactly the same. The system makes an autosave each X minutes, in a parallel line, in case the program is closed without a confirmation of saving/not saving. The user might not want to save the file in the state it is, and prefers to keep the file as it was when he pressed save.

The main problem I see with a system that only provides autosave is that it assumes the user wants to save every time he does something or every time he closes.

Possibly due to the existence of this kind of UX in apps outside the web browser, some users expect to be in control of the system and the system to make him life easier with backups. So my guess is that as this save behaviour exists outside of the web browser, some users will still want to save by themselves for reassurance and control.

  • I agree with you. I don't want to assume the user wants to save unless he explicitly commits. Some software have auto-save option to assure the changes are available even in a catastrophic failure, but this is done in a temporary file and overwriting the old file is done exclusively by a save action performed by the user. I have seen a lot of times user complaining about accidentally overwriting data that was auto-saved by an application. – roetnig Jan 30 '17 at 11:58
  • Oh, I forgot to mention that I do have several applications that auto-save, but I have to provide a roll-back functionality in case the user discards the edits. And that is harder on the developer side. – roetnig Jan 30 '17 at 12:13

This is an educated guess based on my experience rather than any qualified research but this appears to be largely dependant on the users.

Younger, more recent users who are more used to current technologies, are more likely to assume that software has an autosave simply because more of the softwares and apps that they have experienced use autosave rather than a more manual save process.

Users who have been using technology for some time, have learned behavioural patterns that include the habit of hitting save when they want to pause or finish their work. For those users, the absence of a save button makes them worry about what happens to their work should they want to pause or are interrupted before they are finished.

This is a very interesting question (I have used placebo buttons in my designs in the past too) and I may have to design a study to find out more.

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