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I have a five page form: 3 data entry pages, a confirmation, and an submission success page. I am to insert a back button on the middle 3 pages, no problem.

However, there is no specified behavior for the back button, and I am unsure what users would expect of these two behaviors:

Assume we are on page 3

  • Back Button will send us to page 2, and data is retrieved when we return to page 3
  • Back Button will send us to page 2, and no data is retrieved when we return to page 3

If there are other common behaviors, please say so.

  • If you have many pages (3 is not that many, but any more might be), also consider alternative forms of nagivation - going back/forwards one at a time can be quite frustrating. – Bob Nov 6 '14 at 4:01
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    It's easy to get sucked into your own way of thinking when designing UI. Whenever I hear, "what would users expect?" I think Hallway Testing from Joel. Grab a maximum of 5 people from the hallway and make them come try out your software for a minute. Explain the purpose and let them have a go at it. It will become immediately clear what the "user model" is, usually needing less than 5 people. I've seen users try to use my buttons in ways I never would have considered, tho it became trivially obvious after watching them bang at it. – IT Bear Nov 6 '14 at 19:23
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    As you can read with different answers don't ask user to remember or to retype. Have a look about google app like gmail on PC. No question like "you're going to leave the page. Are you realy sure you want to do that... If you do you will lose you data ...grrrr...do you want to save you data ?"... To much questions which afraid users. The system has to help user not to afraid him. And perhaps if you change the back button by " PREVIOUS" label because it seems there is no hierarchy...you'll have a piece of the answer. – pierre lebailly Nov 12 '14 at 5:47
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Microsoft's MSDN Guidelines claim:

Preserve user selections through navigation. For example, if the user makes changes, clicks Back and then Next, those changes should be preserved. Users don't expect to have to re-enter changes unless they explicitly chose to clear them.

See source

Rightly so, IMO.

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    unless they explicitly chose to clear them or, if something you enter/change on the earlier page invalidates what you had entered on page 3 (although in some cases it might be nice to preserve the "wrong" entry but mark it as invalid. – TripeHound Nov 6 '14 at 11:32
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Preserve the information when you can. Consider the 3 data entry pages as one big form that you happen to split into three. As the user completes one section/page, that part should be treated as completed as they move forward. If they move back, they should see what they saw when they left the page - the information that they entered/selected.

You'll probably see on other threads a common conclusion - a potential increase in frustration whenever the user has to reenter information especially when its not necessary.

  • Yeah. I'd also add that some forms are not just input fields. Sometimes you have forms within forms with their own saving function. This makes preserving the state even more important. One caveat is that is people enter something on form 1 that invalidates stuff on form 2 it gets hard to preserve things. – Paul Nov 5 '14 at 16:58
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Be weary of mixing form buttons and navigation links. A user will likely think 'Back' button is a navigational item not a form submission. Assuming button click = server trip to save data.

The confirmation page is probably the best page to put a back or 'Update' link. The summary of highlighted issues links them to areas needing respective updates.

If the user isn't shown a reason to go back why have the button there at all? In this case, it seems the only reason to go back is to update data. A progress bar is probably a better option to set expectations and allow a linear navigation flow.

Consider form validation. If the user is prevented from progressing until they fix errors, this doesn't seem necessary to worry too much. However, if they enter a bunch of information then are asked to go back and fix all errors, you enter a potentially confusing scenario of figuring out what is wrong and how to fix.

This is another vote for a summary or progress style navigation rather than mixing form submission buttons and navigational links.

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    I'm weary of this answer... users may suddenly realize they entered incorrect data in a field (like their previous address instead of their current one), and not supporting them going back immediately to fix their mistakes can cause unnecessary frustration. – Chase Sandmann Nov 5 '14 at 19:15
  • I can see your point. The more accurate answer might always be: "it depends..." Without a more detailed context, holes can be punched in anything. It is important to underscore that UX design is a process of designing for users incorporating iterative design based on user feedback. – Ken Nov 5 '14 at 19:40

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