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Top, Bottom, Right or Left? Where to put the Main Action?

My thoughts on one of the all-time favorite discussion topics of UX Designers – OK / Cancel or Cancel / OK.

I just saw an interesting (design) question from Maximilian Dahl:

Should the button with the main action be at the top or bottom?

Different philosophies

I’ve encountered this question in every design project of mine. And behold… not only designers, but also Google, Microsoft, and Apple have different philosophies on this.

Apple

typically places “Cancel” on the left side and “OK” or “Confirm” on the right side. Apple’s design principles (HIG) recommend placing the positive action on the right side.

Microsoft

traditionally has “OK” on the left side and “Cancel” on the right side. However, this varies in different versions of Windows.

Google

generally follows the same arrangement as Apple, with “Cancel” on the left side and the positive action on the right.

My two cents

I have had good experiences with the Apple way, but designing dialogues and modals based on the conventions and guidelines of the respective operating system is a very exciting approach.

Following platform conventions is more important than optimizing an individual dialog box. — NN/g

However, it is often much more relevant to provide button labels with descriptions that explain what they do, rather than using a generic label (such as “OK”). An explicit label serves as just-in-time help and gives users more confidence in selecting the right action.

But as always, it is important to test and validate with your own users and your usecase. 😉

If you want to get deeper into this topic NN/g has (as always) great content on this topic: https://www.nngroup.com/articles/ok-cancel-or-cancel-ok/