I'm working on a medical decision support app, taking certain actions in the app may result in legal consequences, therefore I'm adding an Undo. It's a single step incremental Undo and if not used for X seconds after taking an action (clicking a button) it will disappear and the action will be submitted (due to legal reasons at that point it's no longer reversible).

Considering that the users are doctors over 50 who have many distractions in their daily work - how long the Undo should be available for optimal experience?

  • "[the undo button] will disappear and the action will be submitted (due to legal reasons at that point it's no longer reversible)." This phrasing suggests that there is a pre-existing legally-mandated maximum time that you are allowed to undo something?
    – msanford
    Commented Mar 8, 2012 at 17:17
  • For the optimal experience? It should be available forever. If you can't do forever, go for "as long as possible such that the doctor doesn't get sued".
    – Rahul
    Commented Mar 8, 2012 at 18:20

1 Answer 1


Since you indicated that there is a maximum time available, and it's only a single-action undo, I would expire the Undo when: (in order of evaluation)

  1. The Undo action is taken (they un-do what they did)
  2. Another action is taken (since it's only a 1-level undo)
  3. The maximum time has elapsed

This is very much how the GMail Labs "Undo Send" feature works with the only difference being that the user can configure the timeout, since there isn't a legal limit in their case.

Now, I don't know if I would hide the Undo capability, but I think it might be better to use a "Inactive" or "Disabled" state indicator for it. This is what most desktop editing programs I'm familiar with do, especially with common actions. If an action isn't available, it is greyed out.

The advantage is that users will at least have a good chance of knowing they can Undo an action.

The final piece I would put in, depending on the task being "un-done" would be to put in a "Redo" action. Especially for anything that requires more than a click or two (eg. entering any text), having to re-do that work if I miss-clicked or changed my mind would be very irritating to me as a user.

Since it has been pointed out to me that I mis-read the OP and in fact there isn't a legal time constraint on when an action would get auto-committed, allow me to expand a bit on what I have above.

Allowing the user to configure the "commit window" to their preference would be ideal, but it really depends on what the purpose is. Since you mentioned that there are many distractions, it sounds more like the Undo capability is more of a "I got distracted and did the wrong thing" sort of a catch. To me, an "Are you sure" double-check would be better at catching these sorts of "distraction errors" than an Undo capability. It shifts the idea to Cancel rather than Undo. Especially in a healthcare environment, users should not be in the mindset of "rolling back" their actions and that what they do is final. Fixing such a mistake requires additional actions.

  • 1
    The question was what time period to use as the maximum. Commented Mar 8, 2012 at 16:32
  • Ahh, I think I may have mis-read the question regarding the legal reasons for things not being reversible. I thought the OP indicated that there already was a legal time constraint on it. I'll edit my answer to fix this oversight.
    – cdeszaq
    Commented Mar 8, 2012 at 17:00
  • Better after edit. I thought of suggesting the second commit button myself, however, I discarded that idea, since many users may automatically click on it and then not have an undo option. Commented Mar 8, 2012 at 18:13
  • @DannyVarod - Yes, that was my initial reaction to the "Are you sure" idea, but it has the advantage of requiring a secondary action and for legal matters, it is essentially a necessary evil. Working in the healthcare field myself, this sort of double-check is very common, and for particularly sensitive or paranoid things, I've seen actions that require a 2nd person to sign off on things, very much like an editor or a code reviewer.
    – cdeszaq
    Commented Mar 8, 2012 at 18:40
  • A signature workflow makes sense in many cases, that doesn't make the environment paranoid :-) Commented Mar 8, 2012 at 18:57

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