There was a time, not so long ago, when you’d open your messages (on whatever platform you choose) and breathing wrong resulted in the accidental deletion of the most important message you’ve ever received. There were no undos, no retrievals, no automatic archival — it was just gone and you were left scrambling for a solution.
After tech companies realized this issue, they quickly began to add fail-safes. Google made “archive” the default as opposed to “delete.” “Shake to undo” on iOs was introduced. And the “are you sure” step was added to every deletion user flow.
Now you may ask:
How can I think that this has gone too far?
After all, it has saved us all from embarrassing conversations, mini panic- attacks, missed opportunities, lost photos and more.
But there is not a consensus among platforms as to how to protect the user from accidental deletions
Protecting the user from accidental deletions.
Many platforms do this well.
Inbox (Gmail’s superior twin, imo) utilizes a quick user flow:
- Swipe left to archive
- Swipe right to schedule the email for later
Immediately after archiving an email, an undo option comes up in the bottom right. Additionally, a semi-related feature includes the smart grouping of emails such as promos, finance, travel and more. The terrific benefit of this is the ability to archive an entire group of emails.
By replacing “delete” with “archive,” risk is minimized because retrieval is possible.
Adding an undo after an action is reactive as opposed to proactive. This has the benefit of shortening to the user flow when it is successful and lengthening it when it is a mistake. This assumes that the majority of times the user attempts a task, they are going to be successful.
LinkedIn Messaging is also quick and easy:
- Swipe left to “Mark as Unread” or “Archive.”
I consider this to be the best compromise. Including the options in close proximity to the initial swipe keeps the eye in the right area and the entire flow in a small area of the screen — maximizing efficiency.
Facebook and iOs messaging need to chill.
In the world where there is a limited number of simple movements available on touch screen devices, protecting the user from understandable errors is crucial.
For example: if swiping up from a message deletes it — on any iOs device with swipe up for home, there is a fairly large risk of accidental deletions. In this case an “are you sure” step is ideal.
A second case: if swiping left on a message deletes, but swiping right saves it for later — the chance of the user mistaking these (because of the frequent use of swiping left or right in other digital spaces) demands an “undo” option.
- Swipe left for “delete” and “hide alerts” options
- Click choice
- An “are you sure” function for delete
The likelihood of accidentally swiping left and choosing on option seems awfully low and doesn’t seem to warrant an additional “are you sure” step.
However, there is an option to delete multiple messages at the same time using the Edit button.
Facebook calm down
The Facebook deletion flow (on iOs) can only be described as obnoxious.
- First use 3D touch (pressing harder) and swipe up to see a menu of options. The importance of this step is that it feels like two steps. The press and the swipe are distinct separate physical actions in the world of touchscreens.
- Choosing delete from the menu brings you to another menu that offers the options, “Delete Conversation,” “Archive” or “Cancel.”
- And then finally, pressing “Delete Conversation” actually deletes the message.
My main issue with this flow is the decision to group “Delete Conversation” and “Archive” under a “Delete Conversation” button. “Delete Conversation” connotes a final decision.
This final pop-up feels like walking down a staircase and thinking you’re at the end when there is actually one more step. That moment of free-fall when your life flashes before your eyes has never been a pleasant experience — and the digital equivalent isn’t much better.
Preventing user error is an admirable goal for digital products. But coddling the user can get to a point that is uncomfortable. And Facebook messenger on iOs is a pretty bad helicopter parent.
Two variables that I think amplify my personal frustration with this:
- Touchscreens are nothing new and many users have a strong command of typical touchscreen functionalities.
- I don’t believe that the typical user is using Facebook messenger for their most important messages — an overkill process like this would make sense in a banking app, or a messenger for legal documents — but I’ll probably live if I accidentally delete that Facebook message from my Aunt reminding me to filter my water.
I’m aware that all of these companies implement extensive UX research to make these decisions, and I may just be statistically wrong. This article is just my reflections and analysis of my personal experiences (PX? lol) using these products.