Cancel Canceling…

There’s a nice ‘feature’ in one of the old email softwares. One particular had a feature that would notify when user is about to cancel a new email. Here’s what the program says:

Program: Press Ctrl+C to cancel

User presses Ctrl+C

Program: Are you sure you want to cancel a new message? Canceling message will remove any changes made. Press Ctrl+C to cancel, C to confirm and N to not cancel.

User presses Ctrl+C

Program: Canceled cancel

Canceled cancel?

To make it usable, the program could have asked: “Do you want to proceed?” (or something like that) instead of “Do you want to cancel?” and then giving option to proceed by asking “Yes” or “No”. Canceling command “cancel” doesn’t add much value in this situation.

This was a tiny issue, but these things add up. The more usability issues your product has, the more tiny annoyances your product has the less user friendly it becomes. And the less usable your product, the less users you’ll see.

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. Ahh yes! Thanks for the link. I was looking everywhere for it, and it was literally right under my nose ;-)

  2. Not sure where I found this little tip, but it’s a good rule to live by…

    Use positive labeling of options and actions.
    e.g., “Enable Sound” instead of “Disable Sound”.

    Not sure what the logic is behind this, but it would seem that “negative” wording tends to lead the user astray.

  3. I keep seeing more “cancel cancel” options appear recently (are they in fashion now?) – they annoy me, but I just saw a non-techie friend click through a load, and when I asked him if the crap logic of the prompts annoyed him, he just said “bah, what’s there to think about? You’re cancelling a cancel.”

    I think it only really annoys the computer literate. The technophobes don’t usually have a blog to complain about things with anyway :-)

    But, this is another great tip in user interface design that more people need to think about. Particularly Microsoft. They’re suckers for these particular sort of double-negative prompts.

    I have this page bookmarked, ready to recommend to people:

    Cheers, and keep ’em coming. :-)

  4. (somewhere back in time…)

    Msft. Engineer A: “Hey..now that we’re making NT we need a key-combination for people to activate the login dialog to the system.”

    Msft. Engineer B: “How about ctrl-alt-delete ?”

    Msft. Engineer A: “Seriously? But that’s like the current key combination to reset the system. Lame.”

    Msft. Engineer B: “Pfft. Think of it like how Apple has you dragging your floppy disk icon to the trash can to eject it from the drive…”

  5. How about a “Do what you want, but leave me alone”-key on every keyboard? :)

  6. Are you sure that you do not wish to Cancel? Press escape if you do not wish to cancel the cancel.

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