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In Microsoft's Windows Explorer, changing the file selection does not count as an undo able action but in Adobe Lightroom (on windows, at least), changing the photo selection does.

It feels like Lightroom's use of the undo stack is incorrect because it is undoing a change in the UI, not a change in the state of data.

Am I missing something (this is an Adobe product, after all)? Should a change in selection be an undo-able action?

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I think a better phrase to use here instead of UI or data is just 'workflow.'

As UI designers, we're creating workflows. Not just tools to let individuals create final products (in this case, it sounds like a compound image, or some other creative project). Undoable actions are required in a variety of digital workflows, and personally I find the extent of undoable actions provided by the Adobe suite to be fantastically useful. So, by this logic, a change in selection is definitely part of the workflow, and should therefor be undoable if that's within the scope of your project.

However, this might be addressing minute details when the greater picture is what's most important, so feel free to adapt this kind of thinking however you think fits best :)

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EDIT: the OP seems to be asking about switching between files when multiple files are open.

I can agree that Undo operation should apply only on the currently open file, switching between files should not itself be an undoable operation IMHO.

It seems to be a trend for some inexplicable reason - it can be very annoying also in MS Office applications (at least Excel), that there is only 1 undo stack for all open files, so if you need to revert the last change in 1 file, but you meanwhile made changes in other files, you are out of luck.


My original answer about selection of an area during image editing:

Undo is a life saving operation everywhere where users would be tempted to kill the creators if they lost their hard work.

Selection in image editing software is that kind of work that should not be lost.

  • I understand that Undo is important but I don't understand your comment. In Lightroom I can change selection in the Filmstrip from file1 to file2 and it will create an undo action. In Photoshop, switching between two files does not generate an equivalent undo action. So, in Lightroom, if I'm making edits in file1 and quickly look at file2 as a reference, that adds a (superfluous, in my opinion) undo to my undo stack. Are you saying that this navigation undo is valid? – E.Beach Nov 30 '14 at 21:45
  • I updated my answer about that kind of selection. – Aprillion Nov 30 '14 at 21:58
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I don't have sources to back this up, but I would agree that in general, undoable actions should be strictly tied to data/state, not the UI. However, in Lightroom, Photoshop, etc. the selection mechanism is a special case. But the reason why it works so well is because the undo stack is always available as a toolbar/window (at least in Photoshop), so even though it's unconventional behavior, as a user the behavior is completely transparent to me.

So, my vote is Undo for data/state only OR Undo all actions and provide visual undo stack

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I personally find Lightroom's undo behavior maddening. I may make a couple changes to an image then flip back and forth between two images to see how that changes feels against a similar image. Undo in this case is broken — it undoes my changing images, not my image edits.

I believe they came up with this undo behavior to manage a specific case: if I make an edit to an image, then switch images, then undo, what should happen? The image that the last edit was done to isn't currently in view. By making navigation and UI changes part of the undo stack, the last image edit undo will always be applied to the currently-focused image.

My instinct, though, would be to automatically switch the user to the image that the last edit was applied to. This is common behavior in text editors — if I undo the last text change but it's out of the current view, the document scrolls to the position of the last change.

Text editors also behave as I expect with regards to different open documents. Each document has an undo stack and hitting 'undo' in any individual document will never effect any other document.

It's possible that they tested the system they landed on and it was too confusing for folks, or that the specific population of Lightroom users found it much better. I find it nonsensical.

One way I've come up with that they could manage this would be to have an 'entire app' undo command and an 'only edits' undo command. If I need to find that image again that I navigated away from I can use the 'entire app' undo. If I just want to undo the edits to the current image, I can use the 'only edits' command.

ETA

I found one compelling use case for applying undo to selections, via this post. If you're working on making a complex selection of many images, you can easily lose your work if you accidentally forget to keep holding down CMD/CTRL. Being able to undo a selection means you can quickly get back the complex selection that you had before the errant click.

I think this is more evidence for the need for two types of undo commands.

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