I have an existing design (web application) where users can edit small parts in a webpage. A small editor will open up with the editable fields and three buttons: [Cancel & Close] [Clear] and [Save].

Whenever you make a change and click [Cancel] a small dialog appears:

Do you want to save these changes? [Yes] / [No]

The [Yes] button has been styled as the to make it look like the default choice. Does this make sense?

Isn't it better to ask the user if he/she is sure toe leave without saving any changes? Something like:

Ignore unsaved changes?

  • 1
    Hm, I hadn't noticed you have an explicit cancel button, I assumed this prompt would show if you tried to navigate away from the form. Also, why do you have a clear button? Those are often death traps. see Reset and Cancel Buttons
    – Ben Brocka
    Jul 16, 2012 at 12:31
  • Must you force the user to make that choice ? In this day and age, many applications simply store the edit buffer and present it the next time an app is started, like a PC coming out of hibernation. Simply stuff their unsaved edits in a data holder and the next time they click on edit, they are presented with the unsaved edit.
    – Torque
    Jan 17, 2022 at 12:02

2 Answers 2


As per your requirement, since you already have a explicit SAVE button, I will not show a Alert asking them to save. Rather it should warn that the UNSAVED DATA WILL BE IGNORED. He has to click on OK or CANCEL to proceed. If he wants to save he should SAVE by clicking the button.

Or with the same popup you are using now... just change the dialogue

"Do you want to close without saving the changes?" and make NO as the default button. If they want to exit, they need to take the mouse away from focused button and perform the action.

  • 1
    thanks! i agree that asking the user to save is stupid after clicking cancel (= i do not want to save). the last option you write about however does seem to be the more relevant question. Thanx for helping me out!
    – Maarten
    Jul 16, 2012 at 12:11
  • 4
    I don't like "okay/cancel" as input on almost any prompt. I also don't like not offering the "save right now" functionality in the alert box; if I didn't see the save button when I tried to leave I could be confused as heck when trying to leave and there's still no save option. Best case I have to scroll around the form looking for the save option. "save/continue without saving" make much more sense as button text.
    – Ben Brocka
    Jul 16, 2012 at 12:29
  • The question is not about changing the name of the buttons or what buttons to use. He is asking about how to format the dialogue box which opens when he clicks on Cancel. Also, it is not about what you prefer but about how Users need it.
    – ajayashish
    Jul 17, 2012 at 6:58
  • 1
    @ajayashish that is why Ben left his comment as a comment, and not as an answer. Comments are for making statements about a question / answer. While personal preference isn't suitable as a specific answer it is acceptable as a comment.
    – JonW
    Jul 17, 2012 at 7:41
  • Cancel to me would absolutely not mean I do not want to save. It means, in every program I can think of, Abort the close operation and let me go back to editing. If you discard my precious edit after I pressed Cancel, I as a user would be very surprised and likely upset
    – Torque
    Jan 17, 2022 at 12:04

Generally if a user has made a change, generally it was intentional and they want to keep it, so I would keep "save" as the default field.

To help people be sure about which option they're choosing (so they don't blindly click) I'd check out the information in Luke Wroblewski's Primary & Secondary Actions in Web Forms .

Overall, it seems that people responded well to designs that made “Cancel” stand out in some way – even if these designs slowed them down a little. This suggests that they were more concerned about avoiding losing their data, than they were about submitting it quickly.

Slowing people down a little is preferable in this situation; a couple extra seconds to avoid canceling/saving unnecessarily can prevent a lot of frustration.

I'd try option C here (assuming the different colored submit buttons fit with the rest of the design) as it was found to cause slightly longer fixations than the "secondary action is a link" situation, which theoretically gives you more time to process what you're looking at rather than blindly clicking.

enter image description here

  • I realised the problem was more about the question then about the default/higlighted response. I agree that SAVE/Submit should be higlighted in the form itself. But in the dialog which appears after clicking CANCEL, thinkgs work a little different. Thanks for pointing me to the article, looks interesting!
    – Maarten
    Jul 16, 2012 at 12:16
  • In general, users will know before they make changes whether they are going to want to save them, but it's not uncommon for users to open up files and make changes with the explicit intention that such changes be ephemeral, or else open up files without any intention of changing them (meaning any changes would be accidental). I wish programs would make it easier to indicate such intentions, by some sort of "regard as untitled document" option.
    – supercat
    Jan 29, 2015 at 14:42

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