This morning I was reading the second article in Smashing Magazine’s series on Web Form Design Patterns and I was surprised to read that the author(s) believe that “[…]it makes more sense to use a clear visual distinction between primary action buttons and secondary action buttons and introduce a significant amount of space to clearly separate them.” What makes sense to them feels counter-intuitive to me.
In my experience, “a clear visual distinction” usually takes the form of the primary buttons being dominant and the secondary being more, and usually too, subtle. It seems like the recent trend is to render the primary action buttons as, well, buttons and the secondary action buttons as text. I can’t be precise about how often I’ve accidentally clicked the dominant button (for no other reason than because it’s just so…dominant) when I meant to click the other, but suffice to say that it’s a big number. One day I almost spent an extra $100 for up to 2” of extra legroom while checking in for a flight online simply because of the “primary button” issue.
What? You think the airline planned that? How cynical of you.
Anyway, that’s been my experience. I can’t imagine I’m alone in that. I’d argue that if a distinction is considered necessary then care should be taken to ensure that the distinction itself is subtle. Making the primary action buttons significantly larger or “hiding” the secondary action buttons is very much the opposite of subtle.