Will that button blow something up?

I was in Valve’s Steam game distribution app recently when it notified me of a new version I could download. When I clicked the button to install the update, Steam notified me that I had a download in progress that it would stop. In doing so, it presented me with this utterly confusing set of buttons:


When that top modal first popped up, the “Exit now” button was greyed out. A few moments later, it lit up as active, but the spinning graphic in the top right continued to spin. So I was confused — did that mean the download was stopped and I could/should click “Exit now” to restart? If so, why was it not doing that automatically, since I had already hit “Restart Steam” on the update popup and made it clear that was my end goal? If not, why were they giving me this option to exit when it wasn’t safe to do so?

Or, is “Exit Now” just a REALLY badly named “Cancel” button, meaning (perhaps) “Exit this shutdown process now”?

Compounding the problem is the other option, which just says “Ok”. It’s a great option on it’s own, but contrasted with “Exit now” it makes the latter seem even more perplexing. Is “Exit now” in fact some sort of “Force quit” function that could corrupt the download that was in progress? If so, why is it even an option?

Naturally, I tried the “Ok” button first. That was completely unhelpful — it dismissed the top pop-up, but as soon as I clicked on the bottom “Steam Updater” popup again, the top one poped right back into place, with the same buttons and the spinner continuing to spin.

I wasn’t in a rush, so rather than risking an adverse outcome to forcing an application exit, I decided to wait out the spinner. After a fair amount of time (2-3 minutes) it did in fact self-dismiss and restart. This leaves me very curious about what “Exit now” does, and whether it’s a safe exit that would save me 3 minutes or something that could possibly completely corrupt the data that is downloading. I don’t intend to experiment in the future.

Fixing it

This is hard to offer a suggestion for because I am genuinely perplexed about what the intent is here. The obvious lesson is that the options you give your users should never leave them confused. In the words of Steve Krug, “Don’t Make Me Think“, and what he left unsaid was “If you do make me think, be sure I can figure it out and don’t leave me even more befuddled”

Another good rule of thumb is to always try to keep your audience from shooting themselves in the foot. In this case, don’t offer an “Exit Now” option if it’s not safe to exit this process. And if it is safe, why make me look at the popup for 3 more minutes — just exit.

That said, if I were working on this I’d probably simplify the entire thing. Get rid of “Exit now” and just be sure to exit automatically as soon as it’s safe to. Get rid of the useless “OK” button, and just give them an exit route for this entire “restart” process if they change their mind. And, of course, add a bit of descriptive text for context and confidence.



Posted in Bad UX
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