I have had a question about the contradictory nature of the Apple HIG in regard to button placement in dialogs. They say that Affirmative action button on right (Print), Dismissive on left (Cancel), however they also say that the Cancel button should be the default action if the result is destructive.

But then they have an image of a destructive action where the cancel button is NOT the default button (https://developer.apple.com/design/human-interface-guidelines/macos/windows-and-views/alerts/)

They do state that we should 'consider' making cancel default in destructive cases which is my only idea why they are being contradictory in their image in that link, so that is non comital and vague.

Any ideas? Thanks

1 Answer 1


It's not contradictory. There are 3 images on the page. If you observe the dialog primary action is usually aligned with what the header is all about.

e.g In 1st image, the intention is, "Are you sure you want to remove your marked notes followed by a time period that says clear marked notes older than 30" Hence the primary action is "Yes pleas, clear them"

2nd image, the intention is, "Are you sure you want to delete the playlist"? Hence the primary action is "Yes, please delete them",

3rd image, the intention is "Do you want to erase the items"? hence the action is "Yes, please trash them".

The "CANCEL" button in each of the cases is not destructive rather a secondary button that is there to cancel the ongoing operation and to go back to the previous state.

Not necessarily they have mentioned the cancel button to be default one. They mentioned anything is possible e.g if there are 3 buttons, one button can be set to default where the cancel button is a probability.

Coming to the solution:

To avoid such a problem and to have consistency in the system, you can always make the destructive action 2 step process for confirmation. In this scenario, the cancel button will always be treated as secondary.

  • Thanks for the reply. I totally agree and understand all that you wrote. I think the 'contradictory' part of the page is near the bottom of the page, they write: ".....Consider making the Cancel button the default button, because doing so requires the user to intentionally click a button to continue with the destructive action." They have cancel on the left of all the images to stop a destructive or non destructive action like you said, however they also say you can make Cancel Default which means it'll be highlighted BLUE. They are saying you can do anything, so what's the rule? Apr 15, 2020 at 4:30
  • It largely depends on the context as far as I have seen. The main intention is to let the user know about what gonna happen and making them double sure if they really want to do. To achieve this, there are n number of ways. E.g Multi-step confirmation, Making Cancel highlighted. Or getting re-confirmation through other ways etc. I usually stick to multi step process.
    – Swapna
    Apr 15, 2020 at 6:10
  • I guess that is true. There is no RULE as such. It's contextually relative and up to a case by case basis. Like you mentioned, the idea is to make sure users don't make a destructive decision without pausing to consider the outcome. At a minimum that means just having a dialog that asks 'are you sure?' and at a maximum it'd be having the cancel button a default and highlighted button that is possibly on the right side of the dialog. Thanks for your input Apr 16, 2020 at 15:58

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