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I'm adding help to a Windows desktop application that is being in use since the Windows XP era. All the modal dialogs display the typical OK/Cancel button set placed at the bottom right as shown in this example dialog:

Layout OK Cancel (Help is not present)

I wish to cause minimal confusion to my users after the next release that's why I hesitate to place the Help button right to the Cancel button. The (seemingly) standardized order shown by the Win32 MessageBox function (with MB_OKCANCEL | MB_HELP combined) would shift the already existing buttons to right (replacing OK by Cancel and Cancel by Help) like this:

Layout OK Cancel Help

I searched the web for this issue, but it turned out to be very hard to get useful answers when combining help, button, and placement, nevertheless I found some screenshots with help buttons bottom left which looks good and useful from my POV.

Where should I place the Help button to the dialogs of an old-fashioned application?

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I think that's the right place to put a help button.

You should either have the help button left-aligned

enter image description here

Or move it to the top, next to the close button. Use the question icon. It used to be a standard

  • I built a small app to better illustrate the problem, maybe you are interested in replacing your screenshot? When updating my question, I uploaded as well one that fits to your answer. – Wolf Nov 26 at 11:50
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    If I recall it right, the question mark beside the close button is for context help (small windows that describe single controls). – Wolf Nov 26 at 11:51
  • The question mark title bar button was indeed for context sensitive help, the mouse would then change to a question mark pointer, and you could click on a control in the window and it would pop up help for that control - example here – dosxuk Nov 26 at 14:21
  • If you prefer to place help left, you have maybe a good answer to the ensuing question how to set the right tab order of help button in dialogs? – Wolf Nov 27 at 9:10
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Primary action to the right

Some best practices recommend the primary action (default) put to the right. This also was a result of a survey by MeasuringUX.

So when reading (from left to right) the last focussed spot allows clicking. The right alignment is also associated with "next" or "forward" movement, whereas cancel button put before ok suggests "previous" or "back" movement.

Help to the left

The help button or any link to additional info should be put far (distracted from the primary button group) to the left.

Overall: consistent to platform UI

As an article of Nielsen Norman Group points out, if in doubt then stick to overall system guidelines or follow the platform's UI convention.

See also

  • I agree that it would be much better to place OK right-most, but it's hard to switch this for a 20 year old application. And it's inconsistent with Windows. But that is not the question here. – Wolf Nov 27 at 10:57
  • As an addendum: did you also read the comments on the article you pointed (me) on? – Wolf Nov 27 at 11:02
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    Yes, now I took time to skim them. And I found 2 articles, that I added to my answer, thanks 👍 – hc_dev Nov 29 at 12:00
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I would go with your second example. For a single reason. The buttons need to be placed in the order of positive action, negative action and such. So from a user standpoint it gets to : Is this error ok ? Press OK / Do I want do cancel ? Press Cancel / Nothing works ? Get help.

  • Sorry, now I see that the screenshots are misleading. It should illustrate a kind of standard placement done by the system. My dialogs have a lot more input controls, and much less text. – Wolf Nov 22 at 9:12
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I always hesitate to place contradictory buttons next to each other. You could hit one or the other by accident which no doubt has happened to many...

  • This is not the question here, but for old-style modal dialogs (to view and change settings) there are only two options to exit it: applying changes or discarding them, these two and only actions are contradictory by design. Of course they should be not too close to each other, ideally also decorated with colored symbols (although this would be a minor improvement to color-blind, and, even more, to blind people). – Wolf Nov 27 at 11:07
  • @Wolf Not easy to go against established Windows OS standards but definitely like for web interfaces you can tone down the cancel button or for example make it red (which comes with socio cultural problems like the Chinese see red as a good thing, stock market prices that go up are in red in China). Same issue arises if your interface is loaded on the Arabic version of Windows which is in right to left layout. I'd stick to the conventional and keep Help on the far left and stick to the OK first on the right and then the cancel. If I had the freedom, I'd put OK to the extreme right edge. – mastablasta Nov 27 at 11:39
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Your interface getting distracted while you put the HELP button on the right side with your primary action buttons.

I recommended aligning the HELP button in the left position, so your interface doesn't get distracted while your users check and uncheck the "Help button visible" option. 

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