Do you really need a Cancel button?


I reported a power outage for one of our offices last night. The utility company has an online form for doing this. Although the info they ask for is very basic (zip code and phone number), it took me three tries to get it right. Why? Because every time I tried to go to the next screen, I pressed the Cancel button by mistake.

Others have written about the various placements, styles, and colors that help users choose the right buttons on websites. I would like to focus on just one aspect of this: the Cancel or Exit button. In most cases, users are well aware that they can close the window, hit Back, or just navigate to another page. I doubt many people have ever abandoned a transaction because they wanted the comfort of a Cancel button to guide them along. But since this button competes for space and attention with more important ones like Next or Submit, I’m sure that some people press it by accident, resulting in failed transactions.

In my case, I was expecting a Next button at the bottom right, but got fooled by the Cancel button instead. Fixing this problem is simple: unless the task involves the final step of a very important transaction, such as a bank transfer, you can safely leave out the Cancel button. Task completion rates should increase. And in cases where you really want to give users a definite way of saying “I want to abandon this process”, show them a confirmation message before you end their session.