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For years we've been presented with dialogs and web pages that ask us OK or Cancel. But what order do they belong in? I've always placed my action button (e.g. OK, Save, Yes) to the left and the negative action (e.g. Cancel, No) on the right. This came from growing up on Windows. Mac people do it backwards (in my opinion), placing the OK/Cancel buttons in reverse order (i.e Cancel/OK).

The Apple Human Interface Guide states:

Always put the action button in the bottom-right corner of the alert. This is the button that completes the action that the user initiated before the alert was displayed.

In other words, Apple says Cancel/OK as shown here:


Microsoft's Windows User Experience Interaction Guidlines state:

Place command buttons that apply to all property pages at the bottom of the property window. Right-align the buttons and use this order (from left to right): OK, Cancel, and Apply.

And as you can see, Microsoft says OK/Cancel as shown here:


What do the popular web sites do?

So much for the OS. How does this translate into apps for the web where the OS is not the one who positions the buttons? Let's take a look at some popular web applications to see what they do to try and answer the question: Should you code your buttons OK/Cancel or Cancel/OK?

Google Apps: OK/Cancel


Facebook: OK/Cancel


Evernote: Cancel/OK

The people at Evernote seem to have come from the Mac world. In fact, the Windows desktop version of the application even has a Mac OS X Spotlight looking search box (see below). It's no wonder they chose Cancel/OK.



PayPal: OK/Cancel


And the winner is…

It's pretty clear that the majority of the web community has embraced the OK/Cancel format. But here's one more site that I'd like to show you. It does what I believe is the best way to present choices to the user on the web.

LinkedIn: OK/Cancel*


As you can see, they use the OK/Cancel left to right format, but are using a button for OK action and a link for the Cancel or negative action. This allows the user to quickly perform the task they intended to do, yet still provides them with a mechanism for canceling the operation.

So to answer the original question "Should you code your buttons OK/Cancel or Cancel/OK?", then answer is OK/Cancel, but with an asterisk. You should use a button for OK and a link for cancel. As always, this is only my opinion. You particular situation may require a different approach.


Anonymous said on September 3, 2009 at 12:37 AM ...

These results are pretty inconclusive, and do not necessarily show a clear winner. However, the convention of OK/Cancel only seem to have stuck because of the dominance of the Windows platform.

However, in all of your examples from the web, only Linked In seems to have nailed the fact that the 'cancel' action should be made less prominent then the other option(s).

timmay! said on September 3, 2009 at 5:01 PM ...

This has been dealt with quite extensively by interface design pros...and it's not so much a formula of OK/Cancel or Cancel/OK.
You didn't touch at all on the visual communication of the colors, font weights, placement/alignment with the form fields they serve, etc. If you're really good at "visual communication" then it may not even matter what order you put your buttons in.
You're getting at that somewhat with the "Ok button-cancel link" conclusion, but the real power of some of your examples (namely LinkedIn) come from the contrast of visual weights and,therefore, relative importance of one action compared to the other.

Kalpesh Soni said on September 3, 2009 at 8:32 PM ...

and why should it be a link for cancel?

Jay said on September 3, 2009 at 9:37 PM ...

Buttons are typically used for POST events, while links are used for GET events. Cancel is a GET to a new page, while the button is a POST that will affect the application state.

Barak Danin said on September 29, 2009 at 3:12 AM ...

Check out this article:

Gonzalo González Mora said on October 2, 2009 at 8:57 AM ...

While the GET/POST reason is right, I think what's more important is that users will, most of the time, want to Save/Proceed instead of Cancel it, so it's appropriate to highlight the most common task.

Another thing to note is that the cancel should have a confirmation dialog when possible, as it's a "destructive" task.

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