I noticed on Office 365 applications and the Office 2016 applications that there is an Autosave feature (which I believe was started in OneNote).

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The official explanation of how the feature works (or rather what it is), according to the Microsoft site is as follows:

"Save early, save often" is now a thing of the past. Now there's AutoSave which saves every few seconds so that you don't have to.

AutoSave is enabled when a file is stored on OneDrive, OneDrive for Business, or SharePoint Online. It automatically saves your changes to the cloud as you are working. And, if other people are working on the same file, AutoSave lets them see your changes in a matter of seconds.

Having a mixed behaviour when it comes to saving seems to be an interesting behaviour, as generally you would think of an application having just a Save or AutoSave feature but not both.

Based on the explanation by Microsoft and how the UI is presented, is there potential confusion for the user or is the design clear enough to suggest how it will be used?

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  • 1
    I have another question to add to this. In case of a web-based app, like google drive, say if we put an explicit Save button to save the users changes (say, also driven by the widely used Ctrl/Cmd+S shortcut key), would it conflict with the default behaviour of a browser of saving the file locally with saving the document? Users mental model is going to play a vital role here, I think.
    – Chandan
    Commented Aug 3, 2018 at 6:11
  • @Chandan I think this is almost a different question because I have a pretty specific example where Autosave and Save are mixed together. I think you could post a question to get some clarification on this as well :)
    – Michael Lai
    Commented Aug 4, 2018 at 0:14
  • Got it. And yes, I think part of my question is not related to yours. I shall research more on this. :)
    – Chandan
    Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 3:49
  • @Chandan it would be great to see a question from your unrelated enquiry :)
    – Michael Lai
    Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 22:30

5 Answers 5


Let's tackle this question like this:

In a crude way -

  1. AutoSave : Save this without user intervention or automatically
  2. Save : Save the work so that the user does not loose it

Now your point:

Having a mixed behaviour when it comes to saving seems to be an interesting behaviour, as generally you would think of an application having just a Save or AutoSave feature but not both.

If you look at them it is not a mixed behaviour per say. They are just ways to accomplish one task in a slightly simpler manner.

The intention behind AutoSave is convenience for saving data. If it would have been something like AutoSave creates a new file and Save just saves it then it would be mixed behaviour and it would kind of be crappy in terms of usage. From my experience on UI/UX design, to a user it seems to be pretty clear about the functionality of AutoSave. Not specific to an application but in general.

So the next part, why would AutoSave be just for OneDrive. That is kind of wierd to me as well. May be a marketing strategy for OneDrive/SharePoint or may be a development breakpoint. Not sure though, could be anything. Because when I see AutoSave I expect it so save locally without me saving it explicitly and not require any OneDrive connection or anything of such sort. That is unclear to be honest as to why this is the way it is built.

Update: As from the perspective of a user, may be once autosave is enabled, a small indication at the bottom left or bottom right saying "file autosaved" would make a huge difference since the user would then be able to completely relate to the autosave functionality and understand that the file is being saved and safe. And of course the option of autosave should be showing up in the menu. If let's say it's disabled, the same bottom right/left spot could be used to say it's disabled or probably show nothing there. Not the best suggestion for indicating disabled autosave state but it could be a start

Hope if not the answer I could help you get close. Thanks!

  • 1
    +1 Some nice points there. I guess I used the term 'mixed behaviour' because I also think of it as one task (saving the work), but the behaviour from the user or system varies depending on context, although it is not hidden away from the user when not applicable (perhaps to encourage the user to explore it as you say). To complete your response, it would be nice to provide a suggestion for how you think this could be made simpler or easier to understand for the user :)
    – Michael Lai
    Commented Aug 4, 2018 at 0:13
  • Thanks!. Sure, I'll update my answer with some suggestions. Commented Aug 4, 2018 at 3:51

Some users seem not to trust auto-saving, so an an explicit 'save' button can help give them assurance that their work is definitely being saved. We've built a few auto-saving system and have observed this in practice. You can also help to reduce this effect by making it clear when their work has been auto-saved. E.g. showing a subtle success message every time it auto-saves.

-- EDIT --

To clarify, we haven't observed this concern much in younger audiences. We build custom web apps for organisations and found that without an explicit save button the less computer savvy staff (often older) are more anxious about losing work. This concern seems to have disappeared since we started always adding a 'save' button as well. This isn't something we tested quantitatively so I unfortunately don't have good stats on demographics for this. Our conclusions were drawn from support questions and user conversations.

  • 1
    +1 Do you have any results from user testing of your own system that shows which types of users don't trust auto-saving and why? That will make the answer more complete and suitable for the bounty.
    – Michael Lai
    Commented Aug 2, 2018 at 21:26
  • Trauma: I suspect those of us over the age of 30 still remember losing work from not saving enough! Also, Word's first autosave feature had a separate auto-recover file that would save your changes but not get rolled into the main file until you pressed save. See support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/107686/… for example. We are closer to Alan Cooper's ideal of auto-save and infinite undo, but I feel past systems often had stronger support for saving but no undo (e.g. data entry) or stronger undo but weak autosave (office productivity).
    – MJBE
    Commented Aug 3, 2018 at 18:37
  • I agree with MJBE that this doesn't seem to be a concern in younger users that seem to implicitly trust software more (if it says it's autosaving then it's autosaving). I've updated my answer with an edit to help clarify what we've observed. Thanks! Commented Aug 3, 2018 at 22:54
  • 1
    @JonWellman Or maybe younger people have less experience with bad autosave systems :-)
    – user109724
    Commented Aug 4, 2018 at 11:08
  • Or that! I'll admit that I don't know the specific reasons why, it's just something we've observed. Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 1:54

I think that if you utilize the following:

  • Display to the user that an auto-save is being used (up in the corner)

  • And also displays a dialog if the internet connection goes down

  • A confirmation box if you try to close the window before the last change is saved.

These three combined I would say is sufficient enough and is easy enough to understand for everyone.

Another great thing to have then is the ability to "go back" even if you only save the changes locally in order to save space on server-side.


EDIT Alright I'll try to elaborate with some screenshots.

Saving changes

This is a confirmation that the document has been saved.

Confirmation about changes saved

But take this scenario for example of people who might not trust this auto saves.

People who work writing documents might be traveling, sitting on a train or something. They don't want to rely on an internet connection for stuff to be saved.

I would instead always save a local copy no matter what and then try to sync it as soon as the connection is up and running again.

Here's an actual implementation of the latter if a user has say closed the tab after writing a comment (for a social community)

Do you want to import previous unsent message?

It's basically telling you that wrote a message without submitting it; asking if you want to import it again (not send it; since you might not have been finished) OR ignore it.

I have no statistics to back up these cases; but from my own perspective I quite like it.

I got the idea from Google's Auto save and Facebook's (I have no screenshot since I don't use it anymore) message telling you that you have one unsubmitted message when you're trying to close the window if you have wrote something without submitting it.


Stackoverflow also prevents user and prompts them with a dialog asking if they really want to leave

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  • +1 Do you have any references or examples that shows an implementation of your solution? That will make the answer more complete and suitable for the bounty.
    – Michael Lai
    Commented Aug 2, 2018 at 21:25
  • I have edited my answer to elaborate upon request; hope this is the answer you were looking for :) Sorry I don't have any questionnaires about how people react to these sort of things.
    – Muqito
    Commented Aug 3, 2018 at 7:10
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    I think English examples would be more helpful to understand the context.
    – user68158
    Commented Aug 3, 2018 at 7:47
  • Alright; I'll update in a few minutes. :)
    – Muqito
    Commented Aug 3, 2018 at 7:49
  • 1
    Another example: some desktop applications used to gray out the save button when there was nothing new to save.
    – MJBE
    Commented Aug 3, 2018 at 18:25

It's Microsoft office - everything is confusing as hell. I much prefer the way this is resolved by Google Docs.

1) Shows current status of the file on the screen all the time(Saving or Saved) with a link to the version saved.

enter image description here enter image description here

2) When looking at the File menu there isn't a confusing Save option! instead user is offered to:

  • download file in a variety of formats
  • make a copy
  • move to a different location
  • look at a specific version saved previously

which in my opinion covers all necessary use cases without extra clutter or confusion.

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  • +1 I like the comparison between Google and Microsoft, but to provided a more rounded answer it would be nice to see a couple other examples to balance the views or support your opinion :)
    – Michael Lai
    Commented Aug 4, 2018 at 0:09

There are two parts to it:

1. Autosave is the default option and always on: In my opinion, this is the best option when used with frequent auto disappear messaging "Changes Saved" without obstructing the workflow. This introduces the feature since our brain is wired to save things and still save. Messaging on a regular interval educates and changes this behaviour.

2. Users have the flexibility to toggle: This allows users to switch the feature off if they are experimenting with the file and don't want work to be autosaved, this is good for those specific users. But if you would try and find the count, I think the number would be less for this behaviour.

Here is an example from Sketch tool:

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  • +1 Do you mind sharing some examples from popular software applications to complete the answer and the requirement for the bounty? You have made some good and succinct points in response to the question :)
    – Michael Lai
    Commented Aug 4, 2018 at 0:08
  • May I asked what you think I lack in my reply? He's basically suggestion what I said.
    – Muqito
    Commented Aug 4, 2018 at 0:13
  • @Muqito there were upvotes for both responses, which were similar but used different examples to illustrate the point being made :)
    – Michael Lai
    Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 22:32

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