I Didn’t Mean It! Usability Heuristic #3

We are human and we all screw up from time to time. The nice thing about technology is that you often have the option to undo your mistakes.

There are fewer things in technology more frustrating for a user than when you click on something you didn’t mean to, and now you have to watch the system do its thing before you will get the inevitable error message or the ability to back out to the previous location. This is precisely the problem addressed in Nielsen’s third usability heuristic.

User Control and Freedom

Users often choose system functions by mistake and will need a clearly marked “emergency exit” to leave the unwanted state without having to go through an extended dialogue. Support undo and redo.
 – Dr. Jakob Nielsen, 10 Heuristics for User Interface Design

We’ve all been there. You’ve pushed save too early, realizing that you missed a required field. But in many software systems, you are stuck, watching the wheels turn, staring at the empty field you know is going to kill the entire operation but powerless to stop it as the system runs through its protocols until it hits the blank field.

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We are human and we all screw up from time to time. The nice thing about technology is that you often have the option to undo your mistakes. Think about how much harder it was to correct a spelling error in a document created on a printing press, versus being able to press the backspace key on your keyboard. No painstaking resets. No pulling out the White-Out to cover it up. Just press one simple key, and your mistake is gone.

Software systems and platforms should be that easy to use when you realize you did something you didn’t mean to do. I see this all of the time in my current position, when users who are new to the system get a bit ahead of themselves and try to leave a screen or move on to a new function when they hadn’t completed the one they were working on. The ability to stop the system and return it to its previous state reduces stress on the users, and reduces the possibility the system will get caught up in a major error down the road.

Users need the freedom to be able to undo mistakes, and also to easily redo something as well. Did you accidentally delete information from a field…or worse yet delete a screen? Having a redo option will save you countless headaches.


  1. […] If you are starting to sense a pattern in Nielsen’s Usability Heuristics, you are spot on!  Many of the heuristics we have already discussed piggy-back off of each other or address the same problem from different angles. Heuristic #5 continues this trend, following on the heels of #3 (Consistency and Standards). […]



  2. […] Report! Usability Heuristic #1 The Real World: Usability Heuristic #2 I Didn’t Mean It! Usability Heuristic #3 Consistency is Key: Usability Heuristic #4 User, Save Thyself! Usability Heuristic #5 This Looks […]



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