The Road Not Taken — Help users to take the right path

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could

Remember Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” from high school? “The Road Not Taken” begins with a dilemma, a dilemma to make a choice, to choose between which path to follow.

Robert wrote this poem as a joke for his friend who was with him on the trail and they ended up choosing the wrong road. This poem hit a lot of people deep because of the hard truth it carries for the choices we are obliged to make throughout our lives.

From simple actions like whether or not to get out of bed, to taking the day off or pushing ourselves to work, to drinking tea or coffee, making life altering decisions like choosing between careers and life partners. Ever since we became capable of making decisions, we have been forced to make choices at one point or another.

Being the drivers of product development, the least we can do is help users make these decisions. For which they don’t have to be stuck in between applications with thoughts like — How to proceed beyond this point?

In a typical flow there will be one or many actions for the user to choose from.

Action which will complete the application flow, conclude the user’s work will be the primary action that we want the user to select, and the other alternatives will be secondary actions.

Primary Action vs Secondary Action

Our aim should be to provide users with enough choices, so that they don’t feel like they are being forced to take certain actions. Design them in such a way that we recommend them with the best option.

To achieve this we need to

Clearly represent the required action
While designing dialogues, forms or user confirmation make sure to explain to the user in crisp words what is required from them in a lucid style description.

Present sentiments associated with the actions
Use appropriate colours and weights to highlight positive and negative actions in the dialogues. Make users are aware of the risk associated with certain actions.

Distinctly present the options user have and help them identify the primary action.

a. Avoid using generic words like — Ok, Yes, No, ….
Instead use appropriate verbs that explains the action taken by user.
(Create, Proceed, Abort, Delete, Remove, …)


b. Placement of primary action and secondary action matters.
Let’s take an example of actions buttons — Proceed and Cancel. Should you place Proceed before or after Cancel? What should be the order of these button? Firstly, we will look at characteristics of both approaches and then decide.

  1. Proceed — Cancel?
    a. Support normal reading flow
    b. Keyboard users get easy access to concluding action
  2. Cancel — Proceed?
    a. Dialog ends with a conclusion
    b. Follows Previous/ Next hypothesis
    c. User looks at all options before choosing an action to take

What do you think should be the right approach?

You can use the the listed characteristics to decide which flow best fit your applications use case. But, make sure which ever flow you choose it is maintained throughout the system.


Do you remember what Uncle Ben told Peter Parker(Spider-man) before he was shot dead? — “With great power comes great responsibility”. We have got the power, now it’s our responsibility to use it the right way.




I’m a software engineer by degree, designer by interest and doodler for fun.

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Vandana Munjal

Vandana Munjal

I’m a software engineer by degree, designer by interest and doodler for fun.

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