Inspired by discussions on using the floppy disk icon for save button, and how this might not be good enough nowdays since nobody uses floppy disks anymore, I started thinking of the word "save" itself.

It's worth thinking about ways to simplify or eliminate the "save" metaphor. When you think about it, having to "save" work all the time is somewhat silly. "Save" is a bit drastic word. It indicates that something is about to be lost, and you need to take immediate action to save it from destruction.
In an application that is not stable, this is maybe not far from the truth, but that's not the ideal...

When I look down here as I am typing this question, there are no "Save" button. The button is instead called "Post Your Question".

Is it better to make more use of context specific actions, and for those situations where a more general word is needed - is there a better word to use?

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    So in a desktop editor what would in your mind be more suitable, "Put data on hard drive"? I think "Save" serves its purpose to perfection in that instance. It's short, descriptive and, most importantly, recognized by everyone. Jun 19, 2012 at 9:47
  • I believe that "Save" should sounds dramatic and request urgency from the user. In fact, stable or not, countless factors may result in lost of user's information. I rather prefer to decide on which situations I should add or not the Save button itself.
    – Dorival
    Jun 19, 2012 at 21:07
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    @Dorival having to save is just something forced on application users. In an ideal world you didn't need to save. You simply create 'restoration points' instead.
    – Barfieldmv
    Jun 20, 2012 at 6:34
  • @AndroidHustle: "Put data on hard drive" would be a move in the wrong direction. When I say context specific actions I'm talking about what kind of task the user is working with, not the technical stuff that is actually happening in background (which is not really relevant to the user).
    – awe
    Jun 20, 2012 at 6:52
  • 1
    The action saves us from retyping :)
    – kokbira
    Jun 21, 2012 at 15:00

7 Answers 7


To save a file is not drastic or dramatic, and it never was. It does not suggest that the work is about to be lost. To think this is to confuse two different non-technical meanings of the word save.

To save can mean to redeem or rescue, but this is not what it means in everyday computing.

Save also means to keep, to hold on to, to retain. When you save your work on a file, you are telling the computer to keep your changes.

Consider the following similar, everyday uses of the word save:

  • Why must we save all these old newspapers?

  • It's important to save money.

  • "Don't you want the rest of your cake?" "No, I'll save it for later."

  • Save your receipts on the business trip; then we can reimburse you for gas.

This sentence illustrates save used in both different senses:

  • Make sure to save all your financial records--if you're audited, it can save you.

When I was a young child, I saved files on 5.25" floppy disks. The word save in this context didn't seem dramatic to me then, and it doesn't seem dramatic to me now.

  • 2
    Save(the current version)
    – Barfieldmv
    Jun 20, 2012 at 6:35
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    Please take into account that the verb “save” also gets translated, losing one of the two meanings; in Italian, for example, the verb used only has the “redeem/rescue” meaning.
    – Agos
    Jun 22, 2012 at 8:10
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    @Agos: So this question is more valid in Italian? ;)
    – awe
    Aug 19, 2013 at 11:40

I think the word "Save" is in the same category as the floppy disk icon itself.

I don't think your analogy of comparing "Save" to "Post your Question/Answer" here on Stack Exchange is valid, "Post" means "Publish to the website", whereas "Save" would mean "keep a copy until I'm read to publish". In fact this is probably the meaning most people have in mind when they see "Save".


Over time as more applications automatically save data to 'the cloud' we could see less emphasis on the act of 'saving' a file.

There will be a point where users will think; "of course the data will not be lost". It will become unthinkable that a system is not intelligent enough to just work like that (think of the advances we have seen in the last few years).

However at the present time the user needs reassurance that their file data will be maintained the word 'Save' is still the best. I don't think many people think about the deeper meaning of the word. It has become common use.

You mention the 'post your question' example from this site. What if you were writing long or complex information and wanted to return later? or be assured that if the page refreshes you will not lose your work? You will still need something that confirms it has 'Saved' even if the action itself is automatic.


IMO, Save needs to continue, because it is what people expect, an expectation is a very important aspect of UX. When the expectation changes, then it will be time to review this.

It may be, as I have seen, that the "save" button does nothing, if the information is already being saved, but provides comfort and assurance that the changes made to this point can be committed and returned to if needed. Until people trust systems more ( which means, until they are as reliable as they should be ) they need this confirmation.

The other side is that not saving - abandoning changes - is remarkably common. How often have you looked at writing an answer or comment on SE, and decided not to bother? Or an email you chose not to send, Or a FB update or tweet you had second thoughts about? The ability to not commit ones work until you make a conscious decision is important - as is the ability to not lose changes made but not yet committed.

I am reminded of the popups you often get saying "Do you want to save your changes?", or "If you abandon this now, your changes will be lost, Do you want to continue?". The buttons need to reflect the action being taken, so I probably want to click "Yes", meaning I want to continue my action, rather than "No" I don't want to save/abandon my changes. There is an expectation here that I know what I am doing, which I like to be respected.

Taking away my control over when and how I save changes lacks that respect.


In About Face 3, Chapter 17 entitled, "Rethinking Files and Saves" (ISBN 0-4700-8411-1) Alan Cooper et al outlines many problems with "saving." I highly recommend reading that book to see their thinking on the subject.

Notably, "Only two arguments can be mounted in favor of application software implemented in the file system model: Our software is already designed and built that way, and users are used to it... Neither of these arguments are valid. The first one is irrelevant... The second argument is more insidious..."

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    I never really bought his argument on that one. Partly, it's because he assumes that abandoning changes is an uncommon activity, and partly because when designing a product that isn't a significant part of a person's day, avoiding violation of expectations sometimes trumps other concerns. Different methods may have their advantages for certain situations, but forcing users to revise their expectations for a minor task is asking for trouble.
    – kastark
    Jun 19, 2012 at 14:49
  • Computer data is different from everyday objects: I can do something provisionally with a computer and either lose it or change my mind. If I spend an hour carving a piece of wood, I don't get to say, "undo today's changes", and it also won't simply vanish if the power goes out. Undo is a thing with computers, so it is a different scenario. Jun 17, 2021 at 15:00

The correct term can vary depending on the use case.

  • If you are writing a document your options could be "save"/"accept changes"/"keep changes" vs "don't save"/"discard changes"/"revert changes" for choosing if you want your changes to be saved or not.

    (As a user, sometimes I open a document, mess around with it (to see what a possible outcome may be) and do not want to save it.)

  • If you are working on a shared document, then you can have the option to "submit" or "submit changes"/"resubmit" for an already submitted document in addition to the option to "keep" or "discard" changes without submitting them to others.

The "save" option may seem redundant if the changes are saved automatically, however, sometimes the user does not want the changes to be accepted explicitly and not implicitly, especially if the changes are part of a larger scope e.g. a document and not a bunch of individual settings.

Users are used to the term "save" and whether or not the users' work is stored in a file system, the term is understood as "keep the current state".

Also, using the term "keep" would lead to ambiguousness, as the users won't be sure what happens if the click on "no" before exiting - will the changes be reverted or will the entire document be discarded?

To sum it up... let the users "save" their work - it will save them the worrying.


iOS eliminated all of the "Save" buttons on the Settings screens. Personally, I got used to an automatic save on exit very fast and seeing "Do you want to save changes..." looks like annoyance now. My thinking: "If I came to the edit screen and made changes, of course, I want to save it, so don't even bother me....". Most of the Settings in iOS are also very easy to manually undo so the benefit of decreasing prompts and clicks outweighs the drawbacks of the explicit save. Of course, if the change is drastic it is a good idea to have an Undo option.

  • Fine if the change is like flipping a light switch, but not so much if it is like painting a room. Jun 17, 2021 at 15:03

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