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I am planning to add a tooltip to our app's Undo and Redo buttons that will describe what action will be undone or redone when it is clicked. How should they be worded?

Here are some examples:

  • Undo set color to black
  • Undo change color to black
  • Undo changing color to black

Or another situation:

  • Undo underline text
  • Undo underlining text
  • Undo set underline

And another:

  • Undo resize (2 objects)
  • Undo resizing 2 objects
  • Undo multiple object resize

Are there any existing policy guides for how these actions should be worded?

  • Ultimately you should do what others do on your platform. It could be "Undo: foo", "Undo foo", "Undo foo", etc, etc. You could use a separator between Undo and the action if you're worried that the wording may confuse users (for instance if certain actions prefixed with Undo have an ambiguous dual meaning, or if you have many non-native speakers in your user base and can't localise). – Steve DL Aug 7 '14 at 9:37
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    Also since you're using tooltips, mind touch users and display the tooltip (or better yet a history) when doing a long button press. – Steve DL Aug 7 '14 at 9:39
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Pixelmator, OmniGraffle and many more (Mac) apps name the undo action after the tool that has been used:

  • Undo Crop
  • Undo Selection
  • Undo Smudge
  • Undo Paint Bucket
  • Undo Delete

But I also saw "Undo Set ...":

enter image description here

The first option in your three examples seem to come closest to what these apps do but if you need to add details like the kind of color you can do something like:

Undo Set Text Style (bold)

The tool (Set Text Style) with capital first letters and the value between parentheses or, if it's a color, as a small square:

mockup

download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

  • Thanks. Grouping a number of operations under "Set Text Style (...)" seems valuable. It would assist the user if they want to undo back through all the text styling they just did; it may be easier for the user to parse the tooltip when the wording is "hierarchical", and it also describes what type of object was edited! – joeytwiddle Aug 7 '14 at 16:52
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Personally, I've never seen multiple undo buttons in the same page/screen. In a case when you have multiple types of actions, I find the Photoshop History window to be a nice and intuitive pattern :

Photoshop History

They allow to click on any action in the stack to get directly to that point and undo all the actions up to that point. Plus they state(text) what the actions were. You can combine that with a single "Undo" button, that will just undo the last action(the custom text will be in the window)

  • I think you misinterpreted the question. "...our app's Undo and Redo buttons" refers two buttons: an undo button and a redo button, not multiple undo buttons. – Qubei Aug 8 '14 at 2:33
  • Well, there is absolutely no mention of a redo in the question. Plus, the Photoshop solution applies to redo also. – Boranas Aug 8 '14 at 7:48
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The common working of the undo function is chronological. 'Going back in time' requires less cognitive effort than thinking about what particular action you want to undo (which in most cases is your last action). Therefor, there is only one undo button in most cases. The step backward functionality in Photoshop works slightly different as Boranas pointed out and is ironically undo-able on itself (this enables you to switch between two states of the design on different points in time).

Now, this functionality sound very easy, but it takes a lot of effort (and thus resources) to implement it. So, if you're short on resources, maybe you could try to solve this problem with text. Instead of calling it 'undo', why not: reset [name of property to reset]. It's not weird to have a different buttons for resetting different things.

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