I'm in the process of improving folder selection process of a backup software my company has developed. The goal is to have the user select the folder(s) he/she wishes to backup.

This page describes how it works today: http://support.degoo.com/customer/portal/articles/1326476-how-to-backup-files

We've found that the most common place where people get stuck is the folder selection dialog (the dialog that opens when the user clicks the "Add folder to backup"-button). Many just close the dialog without selecting any folder.

I was a bit surprised by this, since it's a standard Windows dialog that I assumed most people had seen before, but it looks like I was wrong.

What do you think is the best way to have users select multiple folders? Some ideas of the top of my head:

  • Use a file selection dialog instead of the folder selection dialog. This might feel more familiar since it's more common.
  • Not open any dialog at all and instead show a tree view in the main window where the user can select what to backup via check-boxes to left of each folder.
  • Drag and Drop.
  • 1
    I've never heard of degoo but it seems like a great idea! And it's good to know that you're working to improve your user experience.
    – sgryzko
    Apr 25, 2014 at 15:17
  • 1
    Calling the user “it” is not a very nice idea. Apr 27, 2014 at 11:16
  • 1
    Fair point. I've changed that now.
    – Yrlec
    Apr 27, 2014 at 12:11
  • 1
    You might want to consider reversing this: by default, the software will backup all folders on the local hard disk, and advanced users (who probably has encountered, and know how to use, the folder selection dialog) can exclude folders from being backed up. (See Apple's Time Machine software as an example: support.apple.com/kb/HT1427) Apr 28, 2014 at 9:13
  • 1
    All the answers below assume they know what are the users' problems with the dialog. Did you consider looking more into this issue? Perhaps with frontal usability tests?
    – Dvir Adler
    Apr 28, 2014 at 14:43

11 Answers 11


I am as surprised as you that users have difficulties to add a folder with this standard dialog window. But users are surprising, that is why we like them

I don't think there is a perfect solution but maybe what you need is a combination of complementary solutions

  • First you should keep this "folder selection" system because it is the more standard for geeks like us
  • Drag'n drop is also an efficient and userfriendly solution
  • You could also use the contextual menu directly on the windows explorer which is quicker than open the software


download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

  • 3
    +1 for option 3. An important situation to keep in mind is that a folder is not selected for backup when a user thinks it is. The user should find out before it's too late.
    – Peter
    Apr 25, 2014 at 19:05
  • I'm not at all surprised that the user struggles with a Windows standard dialogue window. "Standard" does not imply "good". "Consistency" does not create good UX. Empirically a large proportion of time on support call line for a company I know of was trying to help users manage and locate files
    – Jason A.
    Apr 30, 2014 at 7:53

I have nothing but anecdotal evidence, but I know exactly what the issue is.

Average people don't know where their files are.

I'm going to broadly group everyone into two categories.

Power users

These people understand where there files are, can think through nested folders and easily browse what they want from the dialog you've presented. Their concerns are privacy and organization, they want control over already know the best way to do everything (for their satisfaction).

My description here is short, because the vast majority of people who will ever read this will fall into this category. We design for ourselves by default, so we rarely need to think about ourselves extensively.

Average users

If you've ever dealt with an "average" computer user and asked them what files they'd like to backup, they'll say "my pictures", "my documents". But they aren't referring to folders with those names, they're referring to the pictures themselves, the documents. Digital versions of physical items: a photograph, a stack of papers.

To worsen the problem an average computer user understands a folder hierarchy up to 1 level deep. The root for any given user is whatever folder their photo program drops them in by default, their 1 level is composed of any trivial grouping of folders they established. This is again because they think in terms of physical items, most people have seen a folder with some papers or an envelope of pictures. They've never seen an envelope inside of another envelope though, and that way of organizing things isn't obvious to them.

You're asking them to find what they care about from the root of the computer, not the root they are accustomed to. When you present these users with the computer root and ask them to find what they care about they're lost and confused. Many will just give up.

In this case, you need to do the work for them. Ask them what they care about, then find their files for them. If they say they care about Documents, scan everywhere they could possibly stash a .doc, .docx, .xls, .xlsx from their Downloads, Documents, Desktop and back up everything. If they care about Music find every .mp3, .ogg, .flac, .alac, .aac, etc. and back up everything.

By doing this, you'll also protect yourself from their own error in backing up their content. This group of people may become (unjustly) angry at your service for not backing up an important document they saved to their desktop, when they only told you to backup their documents folder.

With these two groups in mind, I believe something like the following would dramatically increase your success rate. This is more work for you as a backup provider, but will allow computer users of all levels of ability to effectively backup the things they care about:

Content based & directory based backup utility

  • 2
    I think this is a better explanation of the point I tried to make. +1 :-) Apr 29, 2014 at 11:04

What's the possible user stories? Let's see.

  1. As a user, I want to see the directories which will be baked up.

  2. As a user, I want to add a directory to the list.

  3. As a user, I want to remove a directory from the list.

  4. As a user, I want to add multiple directories to the list.

The default backup tool in Windows looks like this:

enter image description here

It responds to all of the four requirements, and, most importantly, does it through a single dialog. Your solution uses two dialogs to do something which is inherently related: one dialog displays the list and enables to remove items; another one enables to add them.

The Windows solution responds to an additional requirement: being able to exclude a subdirectory, while the parent directory remains selected. It doesn't look like your solution allows that.

However, the Windows default backup tool misses two essential features:

  • The ability to simply drag and drop directories to the window (I imagine that it's impossible, and the screenshot has no hints indicating that the drag-drop feature exists),

  • The ability to specify the exact path of a directory to add. This is the core feature which I found missing from too many applications when I used Windows. Instead of simply pressing Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V, I had to waste time expanding parent directories until finding the one I want.

Why are your users closing the dialog without selecting anything?

  • Maybe because indeed, they are familiar with this brain-damaged variant of the dialog, and think you use it as well:

    enter image description here

    What's terrible here is that one can't Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V a path.

  • Maybe because at the moment of opening this dialog, they simply don't remember what is the directory they want to back up. They open the dialog, close it, search for the directory in a different application (or switch to an app which already contains the info), return to your app and open the dialog again.

  • +1 for the ' can't Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V a path.'. Those dialogs are the most useless dialogs ever Apr 25, 2014 at 12:30
  • Newer versions of Windows have a box you can paste into.
    – mcrumley
    Apr 25, 2014 at 19:23
  • I've always hated that dialog - no way to type in an address, access "favorite" folders, or to select UNC network paths. Apr 26, 2014 at 11:44

Add the most common places (My documents, My pictures, My music etc) as some easy accessible shortcuts, and let the current feature be "advanced selection" or "additional selection" of files.

enter image description here

  • This doesn't help users backup any folder except for Window's "libraries" which aren't really folders (they are collection of folders). Doesn't even provide support for common folders for users e.g. "Desktop". Apr 26, 2014 at 11:42
  • 1
    @Danny: From the end user's perspective, a location is a location. There's no need to add alien terms like "physical folders", "virtual junction points" and "libraries" ;-) Apr 26, 2014 at 13:48
  • 1
    @Danny: The rationale behidn the suggestion is to provide the user with some good defaults and to to use some familiar terms. If the users is not familiar with the folder structure on his computer, then he would most likely collect his documents in the "virtual folders" that Windows exposes. Thus the most important locations the backup software should back up. Oh, and don't take my screen-shot literally! Those four folders are just a random pick. Other relevant folders should be added as well. Like you suggest: the desktop. Apr 26, 2014 at 13:51
  • 2
    I think that even that won't help some users, that's why I believe you need to show the users the content of the folders/libraries for them to decide. Also, a list of recently used locations is useful (usually at the bottom corner of the save/open dialogs). Apr 26, 2014 at 15:27
  • @Danny Good point! A preview or hint of the content would be very smart. My answer isn't intended as an ultimate solution, it's just another alternative that wasn't mentioned already. Apr 26, 2014 at 16:25

First, you may start with a default backup option enabled. Instead of starting with no backup set, assume your user installed the application to backup something, and start doing it with the most common option (Home folder?) let them know by starting the application in the backup places selection area (with the Home folder serected).

If you are unsure you can ask a question at startup, as below. Always stay in the user's perspective, not the software's ("I want to backup..", not "Choose a folder" or "What do you want to backup?"):


I want to backup:


full protection,       Includes pictures,    More advanced options
lot of space           documents, movies     Choose all the places you like


The [ OTHER PLACES ] button brings to the backup places selection area, where You should show the most common places/options. Note I keep calling them places instead of folders, you may find a correct term, not necessarily folder.


I want to backup:

[SWITCH]  [ICON][ MY HOME FOLDER ] size ( contains..)

[ ADD ANY OTHER PLACE ] Choose or drag here any folder


This is backup for people that don't know about files, folders. and backups.., they just want to save "things" from "crashes".

One other fine extension might be, if you can search for the recently modified files on the device, you can actually see where the user is working. So if he/she doesn't even know where his/her files are, you do. You can propose those folders in the BACKUP SELECTION options list or warn him her ("I see you have not backed up folder yyyy where you have saved 12 files recently"). This can lead to privacy issues, as you do not want to ask him to backup folders like "xxx - Jenna Jameson - porn", so you may add a [FIND RECENTLY USED FOLDERS ] button to let him choose, or select them by file type .xls .doc, etc...

  • I think this is a better explanation of the point I tried to make. +1 :-) Apr 29, 2014 at 11:02

To skip the folders and focus on making backups of different types of files (as suggested by Jørn E. Angeltveit and AR.) might reduce the number of decisions the users have to make when starting to use the program (this will make some power users frustrated). This design is based on trying to simplify as much as possible (maybe to much).

I have skipped the tabs and hided the less used preferences and functions in "Advanced backup" and "Advanced sharing".

  1. Files and folders that are common to backup are backed up from the start. The users want to see that something happens instantly when starting to use the program.
  2. The backup is done on different types of files suggested by the software. The types of files may be in predefined categories, for example, Documents (docx, xlsx, pptx) or Web (html, css, js), or automagically created categories based on number of files of a certain type (*.leo), files that is used often or some other pattern. When new patterns emerge the user is notified about it in a friendly manner. This makes it easy for users to make decisions about what they want to backup.
  3. I could not resist to not simplify the Preference tab as well :)

enter image description here

If you have to stick to backup folders, I would suggest several ways of adding folders outside the main window:

  1. Context menu as suggested by Renaud.
  2. Drag and drop folders to the Degoo icon on the Windows desktop, the taskbar and/or the notification area in the taskbar.
  3. Drag and drop to an icon that hides on the edge of the computer screen, similar to the sun menu in Techsmith's screenshot software, Jing (http://www.techsmith.com/jing.html).

By personal experience, the context menu and drag and drop to the Degoo window is the simplest and most intuitive way of adding folders. The third suggestion is hard to get right, and I think Jing is one of few software that have made it work pretty well. I would test all of these alternatives and include the ones that is most often used in the final product.

  • Very nice suggestions! Adding some numbers to guide the users is very smart. Apr 29, 2014 at 11:06
  • Choosing which types of files you backup is very different from choosing folders to backup. If you choose by file types, this has to be very clear in the software. Even though, as a user I would hate such an idea. May 7, 2014 at 23:44

Regarding the Selecting multiple folders:

I faced this scenario few times in my life,

simple description is should flow from the left to the right with the files(objects) on the left and selected files on the right.should also have the following control buttons, in this order, for moving objects from the source the selected area.and if we select some file it will automatically add the backup ques in bottom of the window after click backup or 30 sec time out,it will be easier to the user, each and every files folders can select or unselect using check boxes,

I suggest to try this approach:

enter image description here

  • I did not get what you mean about the 30 s timeout. May 7, 2014 at 23:46
  • Hi, I mean , if the user want manual backup or we can add auto backup feature, backup will start in 30 sec after selecting the folders , automated backup process,
    – Lasantha
    May 8, 2014 at 5:19
  • Now with your explanation this is even less clear. :-) Jun 8, 2014 at 12:37

From a developers PoV:

My Music, My Documents and My Pictures are virtual folders. So they can combine folders in different devices that are not always available. From this point of view, you can never guaratee the folder can be backed-up.

I suggest to try a different approach:

create a list of folders (from a non-removeable-devices) changed in the last days 
and get the last 5 folders in a overview.

With your current dialog the user cannot choose 3 folders. Even if these are in the same place ! The user has to trigger the dialog 3 times. This is really a pain. And does the dialog at least remember the (navigation) place from one time to the next time ? I do hope so.

The first thing to do would be to make this dialog allow the user to choose multiple folders — with Shift, for example.

And the selected folders would appear in the list.

Then allowing the user to add — multiple — folders to the list by drag-and-drop is a good idea.

Your idea of check boxes is powerful, but the dialog would be heavy. It would need careful explaining. The check boxes would come in the folder selection dialog. They must not come in place of the list of selected folders.

Regarding users closing the folder selection dialog :

  • The fact that your dialog has a — big and red — close cross does not help. In Window$, dialogs usually have this flaw. This brings confusion. On Mac, dialogs usually don’t have the close red light / the close box. Build a dialog without close cross, if you can.
  • The bottom right button of your dialog is Cancel. So people like me who have learned to read from left to right are inclined to click Cancel when they have the wanted folder. In your dialog, the button OK is not the right button, and not even the left button either. Go figure ! The logical place of the button OK is :
    • At the bottom right in left-to-right languages like french and english.
    • At the bottom left in right-to-left languages like arabic and hebrew.
    • Don’t ask me where in japanese !

Regarding the folder selection experience:

  • The Window's folder selection dialog is a pretty bad user experience - no favorites, np option to type in address or to select a network location (UNC path), no way to see what to folders contain.

  • You could provide users with an experience similar to to the one they may be used to from selecting files (see wireframe). Make sure the selection can be from both the tree (on the left of the wireframe) and the list (to the right of the tree).

    Do not filter out the files from the browse view (the left side of wireframe), since the user may need to see the list of files to determine that the location is right.

    If the backup locations are folders only and the user selects a file, you can probably assume the user wants to backup the containing folder.

Multiple selection:

  • You could combine the selection dialog with a common multiple selection approach - select from left, add to right and enable removing from right.

Drag and drop:

  • Drag and drop is a nice feature to have, but I am not sure it should be the only available option.

  • A good reason for using drag and drop would be to add support for items dragged from outside your application i.e. a folder, a file or a link to a folder or a file, from which you can determine the folder that needs backing up without the user knowing where it is (e.g. if the user only knows where the link is or the file is in an open folder and the user doesn't know where that folder is).

Other considerations:

  • Don't forget to enable undo/redo for the add/remove to/from backup list.

  • Consider enabling change of address on left of wireframe to backup folder that the user clicks on within the right side of wireframe, so the user can make sure the folder contains the right files (that it is the right folder).



download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

  • In the current UI of @Yrlec’s software, the concept of selected folders for backup is clear. This is something that should be kept. Apr 27, 2014 at 14:05
  • In this mockup, there is big confusion over “selected folder”. Here, “selected folder” means 3 different things. And I don’t understand the meaning of the check box “Select”. This mess is to avoid absolutely. Furthermore, what is the action of this cross button left to the home button ? It looks like a mistake. Apr 27, 2014 at 14:16
  • @NicolasBarbulesco The home button is a part of the webpage wireframe component I found in Balsamiq, couldn't find a ready made file browser component. The names do need fixing. Edit: I changed them a bit, feel free to suggest better names. Apr 27, 2014 at 17:43

What about applications that store their data in hidden folders like %USERPROFILE%\AppData\Roaming. This even causes issues for power users. See this list for more Windows special locations.

In addition to answers above from @AR about default library locations, an immediately achievable solution is to expose these special locations in a user approachable manner

[ ]Documents [ ]Pictures [ ]Music [ ]Application Data

It is possible (not trivial) to build up knowledge about which applications store important data in which places. You should then default to backing up data for all known applications you detect.

A better goal (but harder to implement due to Windows installation design) would be to backup both the application binaries & data so that user could quickly get this going at another computer.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.