We run an email groups service, like Google Groups. Groups can set the default to where replies to messages are sent to - either to the original sender or to the group. For a group that is set up so that the default is for replies to go directly to the sender, replying to a message on the web looks like this:

enter image description here

We prepend the word 'Private:' to the subject, and the button on the bottom left is labeled Reply to Sender.

If the person wishes to reply to the group instead, they click the 'Group Reply' button on the right. It looks like this then:

enter image description here

We remove the 'Private:' from the subject line, and change the Reply to Sender button to Reply to Group.

This set of interactions is confusing for some people. How can we make this functionality easier to use?

Edit: Additional Information

For completeness, here is the interaction when the group is set to Reply To Group by default:

enter image description here

And to make it a private reply, click the Private button on the right:

enter image description here

  • Sending a message is a very definitive action and people are more wary of making mistakes. The answers below are about making the difference between a reply to the group or a reply to the sender more explicit to give users more certainty about their action. A clearer switch in and to the different modes like the dropdown and the distinction in background color are things to consider perhaps.
    – jazZRo
    May 20 at 9:07

4 Answers 4


One of the main problems I see is related to the flow of the design. In Western cultures, it's very common to read using F or Z-patterns. In the Z-pattern case (which is more common) the "discard" button is where the quick scan ends and where the flow ends. Since it's in red, it also "jumps" to the view, therefore I think you'll have a lot of users clicking that button. Destructive actions should never be that prominent, and they also require confirmation (just in case you don't have it).

enter image description here enter image description here

As for the UI itself: why change everything based on conditions? It's extremely confusing. The first two screens show a huge issue: you have two green buttons, both of them read... Group Reply. This is known as cognitive load, so it's no surprise users are confused.

Then you also have that "BCC me" checkbox in one version and not in the other, which will make users wonder if they're doing something wrong because an element appears and disappears without any valid reason (I don't say you don't have them, I mean at first sight. Users don't know your motivations).

So... what to do?

If it were me, I'd leave the conditional buttons for private and group replies (on a side note: what if I don't want to reply, just send a new message?). Then, at the side of the button, a link (NOT A BUTTON!) with text like "change to..." or similar. Then get rid of the current buttons on the right completely and make the "discard" button more subtle or just a text link, maybe on top of the message window.

Here's a quick sketch of what I'd do without thinking too much. You may probably need more changes, but I'm showing it to visually explain what I mean.enter image description here

  • I'm not sure I understand the part about leaving the conditional buttons and adding a link 'change to'. Also, in your sketch, where would you put the button to send the reply? May 19 at 2:34
  • 1
    When you're in either mode, you can "change to..." the other mode, maybe using AJAX for a more seamless result. That is for your current scenario. In my mockup, I've incorporated a combo button labeled "Reply to" which serves as the Reply button in this scenario. This design eliminates the need for users to manually switch between modes and allows them to have control over their own experience.
    – Devin
    May 19 at 16:21

No wonder it's complicated for users to understand, I had to read the question three times to understand the issue. I think adding the Send button solves the problem.

I would create some guidelines:

  1. Add the Send button
  2. I would define areas of action, differentiating the reply options to choose (private/group in the center of the image below) and the options inherent to the mail (send/discard, on the right).
  3. It would avoid alternating interaction from one corner to another (left/right)
  4. Unify icons of the option buttons, showing the difference between one and the other
  5. I would place the Reply to Group by default and the Reply to Sender button as an alternative


  1. In case of activating the Reply to Sender, the button goes to the active state and the Reply to Group button inactive
  2. If possible, highlight the word private in red


If even so this is not enough to show the difference between both options, you can always look for more extreme resources such as a background change:


  • 1
    Still I wonder how many people will hesitate to click the "reply to" buttons because they don't know if it will reply immediately.
    – jazZRo
    May 20 at 8:40
  • Maybe the button text should be different
    – Danielillo
    May 20 at 8:48

The buttons are controlling the recipient so they should grouped together at the top by the field they control and separate from the Send and Discard buttons

enter image description here


Another option is to turn the reply button into a combo button (button attached to a dropdown), which has the default action of the group selected by default, and the dropdown can be used to change it to the other one. You can have a short popup tutorial the first time the user is on the reply page if you really want.

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