Wednesday, April 7, 2021

New Outlook’s Dangerous “Discard” Shortcut

Nick Heer:

Microsoft has two different versions of Outlook in the Outlook for Mac app. One of the keyboard shortcuts changed in New Outlook compared to the “classic” Outlook app is Command–Shift–D. In Apple’s Mail app, this is the shortcut for sending a message. In New Outlook, it discards the message you have just finished writing — without warning or confirmation — where it disappears into the aether.


Update (2021-04-15): Albert Andersen:

The good news is that ‘discard’ is not data loss. That draft is sitting in your ‘deleted items’ folder, ready to send. This is probably how it slipped through the cracks: it’s not really gone, so doesn’t meet the normal ‘must prompt’ criteria.

Nick Heer:

When I look in my Deleted Items folder, I see the drafts from when I tested this last night and just now, but none of the discarded drafts preserved the message text, and the subject line was only preserved in one.

Albert Andersen:

Looks like what ends up in the trash will be what was in the last auto save (~30 seconds) of the draft - it doesn’t do an additional save before discarding. So… light data loss.

Albert Andersen:

We’ve changed ‘discard’ to cmd-escape (also closer to other outlooks which use plain esc) in beta ~Thursday and production next month.

Prompting is still on the table too, but first we want to take a stab at making the workflow intelligibly undoable, see if we can make it work without another blocking alert.

13 Comments RSS · Twitter

In Big Sur's Messages app they switched from Command-Delete to Command-D to delete messages. What's wrong with the Delete key?

On Mac keyboards (in America), the delete key doesn't have the delete icon that we see in menus. Maybe the software folks finally got tired of waiting for the hardware folks to fix our keyboards, and switched to a symbol ("D") which even Apple designers don't have the guts to remove from our hardware!

Wow, that's a badly designed shortcut! Assuming it's wise to have a keyboard shortcut for this action, I think always showing a dialog to confirm the deletion is appropriate. I very rarely want to discard draft emails.

@James: Apple's standard system dialog on macOS to confirm whether or not to keep a new unsaved draft document also now uses the keyboard shortcut Command + Delete to trigger the delete button, when previously it was Command + D. This change makes a lot of sense to me. Command + Delete is harder to trigger accidentally or unwittingly, and the mnemonics are totally clear.

No, please no confirmation dialogs!

There's already an easy, standard way for software to delete a document and still provide a way to recover it later if the user changes their mind. The Mac has had it since the very beginning: the Trash.

Matt Leipham Ellis

@Martin I had always assumed the D in Cmd+D was for “Don’t Save”

There’s already an easy, standard way for software to delete a document and still provide a way to recover it later if the user changes their mind. The Mac has had it since the very beginning: the Trash.

Yes, but the BeOS-style notion of treating mail messages as files hasn’t really caught on.

Also, moving unfinished changes to the Trash instead of asking the user to save them has, to my knowledge, never been how the Mac works (do you then leave the old version in its place, and a draft of the new one in the Trash? if you want to undo that, do you overwrite the old version? etc.). Here’s a fairly old “save changes” dialog from the HIG.

So, I think Outlook is consistent with that by showing an alert. And Outlook does provide a Trash equivalent: discarding the message doesn’t delete it, but rather leaves it as a draft.

That said, I think cmd-backspace would’ve been a better choice. (I also find cmd-shift-D for Mail’s send shortcut… puzzling.)

Sören: Email programs have their own trash: the deleted messages folder. Discard should just put the draft in there, where it gets deleted on a schedule/on quitting the app. Destroying stuff the user has typed with no way of ever getting it back, even if the user has said, “discard this,” is always a bad idea.

@Sam: What's wrong with a confirmation dialog? You need only press the Return key to confirm the deletion. I doubt anyone is discarding enough draft emails to make this extra step onerous.

@Matt: I'm sure you're right that the "D" in Command + D stood for "Don't Save" which makes total sense, but I think Command + Delete is less dangerous.

"What's wrong with a confirmation dialog? You need only press the Return key to confirm the deletion"

I think you just answered your own question :-)

What email apps should do is:

1. Move discarded draft messages into the Email app's Trash, like others have suggested
2. Add an "Undo Discard Message" action to the undo stack

Both should be implemented, and "undo" should move the discarded message back from the Trash to the Drafts folder.

Alternatively, something similar to Gmail's "undo send" feature could be implemented, where, after discarding a message, a nonmodal popup is shown that can be clicked to bring the message back.

Martin: Based on usability studies I've seen, confirmation dialogs generally lead to two possible outcomes, neither of them desirable.

It trains users that deletion is "command-D, return" (or whatever the keys are), in one motion. People don't take the time to read and consider every dialog presented to them, especially one where they answer the same way 98% of the time. When a user finally does want to cancel, they often realize it only after they've accidentally confirmed it. The dialog itself adds only a tiny bit of friction, but they don't even get any benefit from it. I've seen more than a few people alias rm="rm -i", and later type "rm importantfile", "y" anyway just because their hands were used to always typing "y" after "rm".

The other common outcome, when working in an environment without the safety of Undo, is that many people compensate by slowing way down. (This is often a reaction to being bitten by outcome #1. They'll never make *that* mistake again.) Have you seen newbies take forever to perform the simplest task? It's not because they can't find the right button. (OK, sometimes it is.) It's because they know they don't know how to recover if they make the slightest mistake.

So people work either quickly and dangerously, or slowly and safely, which is crazy because we've known for decades that Undo can allow them to work quickly and safely.

Programmers use confirmation dialogs because (1) they're quick and easy to implement, and (2) they offload responsibility to the poor user, who did technically hit the "OK" button. It's not because UI/UX designers think they're a great workflow.

So, no, confirmation dialogs aren't bad because pressing the return key is an onerous task. They're bad because they don't have an impressive track record at their one purpose: protecting users. I can't think of a single case where a confirmation dialog is better than some form of Undo. If Google can unsend an email, Microsoft has no excuse for not being able to undelete a document.

My Outlook 2019 on Windows, discards the email completely upon hitting escape, without warning and immediate checking of deleted items, drafts or sent items reveals that no part of it was saved, even though I had been composing it for the last 30 minutes.

I often hit escape after selecting text I want to copy to the clipboard. When I return from the other app where I pasted the text, I hit escape to deselect the text, which works in all other applications, but in Outlook I always forget it does that and end up losing my work.

If only there was an option to disable that behaviour!

Leighton O'Connor

Hello, I’m running outlook on a Mac and it keeps on deleting my mail while I’m writing it. How do I avoid this?

Thank you for posting the update (2021-04-15) Albert Andersen.

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