The Delete Confirmation Functionality

by Krishna on January 13, 2010

Phil Haack writes about the lack of confirmation dialogs when deleting an item in the Netflix queue.

I have noticed something similar on the Amazon wish lists. It avoids an unnecessary click, but at the same time, allows you to quickly undo the action if you had accidentally clicked the first time.

This reminds me of one of my pet peeves: people who complain about the Delete confirmation dialog box for files. Generally, the person who makes this complaint “cannot imagine” how stupid the operating system architects and developers are there. The user wants to delete something. You have a Recycle Bin. Why doesn’t the operating system just get out of the way? And who reads the dialog box anyway? One complainer suggested that this was just a way for the developer to shift responsibility onto the user. Since the user clicked Yes, the programmer is no longer responsible if the user accidentally made a mistake. And the implication is that the programmer is lazier and needs to own the responsibility. Or something of the sort.

Obviously, I have no idea what the intention of the programmers were. But let’s assume that there was no confirmation dialog box and the second you clicked Delete, the file is deleted. That is great if you meant to hit the Delete key. But what if you had meant to hit the “End” key (to navigate to the end of a list of files) and your stubby finger pressed down both the Delete and End key. What would probably happen is that the currently selected file gets deleted, you navigate to the end of the file list and you don’t realize that your file has just been zapped.

But what about the Trash can, you say? The problem is that if you don’t know the file has been deleted, you may not bother to check its contents before emptying it, especially if you had been deleting other files. You may not even realize the mistake until days or weeks have passed and then even a disk recovery service may not be able to help you.

I elaborate on this seemingly minor issue because although user interface issues are more complex than they seem at first glance, because they don’t seem so complex, everyone has an opinion. Even those who have no clue about user interaction or the design choices that made a choice necessary, even if it was not the most optimal. This was best illustrated by a recent comic “How a Web Design Goes Straight to Hell” by Oatmeal Comics. As the author notes,

I actually had a client include their mother in the design process so that she could provide feedback and criticism. […] You are no longer a web designer. You are now a mouse cursor inside a graphics program which the client can control by speaking, emailing and instant messaging.

It is a tough world out there for user interface and user interaction designers.

{ 2 comments }

Kevin Rodrigues January 14, 2010 at 12:21 pm

Maybe the positioning of the Del key on the keyboard is improper. Should it be redesigned to keep it as far as possible. Say as a separate key on the top right edge of your keyboard away from the rest of the keys?

Krishna January 14, 2010 at 3:21 pm

Kevin, that might be a good solution. I remember they had these huge ENTER keys that were adjacent to the BACKSPACE key and if you accidentally missed one, you would hit the other. By having other non-action-based keys in between them, it solved the problem.

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