Redesigning the Save Button Is the Wrong Approach

Every once in a while, I come across an article about someone talking about how antiquated the floppy disk icon of Save has become.  They talk about how many office documents of today would not have fit onto the 1.44mb capacity of a floppy disk and as new generations of computer users arrive onto the scene, many have never used a floppy disk.  Obviously the icon needs redesigned these individuals discuss; however, I say it doesn’t need redesigned – the button itself needs to be removed altogether.

This past afternoon, I came across this branch conversion by PJ Onori. In it, some fantastic ideas came up with different ideas on how to convey the abstract meaning of an icon and how to provide an indication on the current state.  I highly recommend that you read through it since it provides a lot of great insight into icon design in general.

While I am monitoring the stream, I also have to remember when it was the last time I pressed the save button in Microsoft Word and why I did such.  This seems obvious; however, looking at my own behaviors it was not.  There are 3 cases when I explicitly hit the save button (or as in one case “save as”).

  1. Periodic Saving
  2. Finished Editing or Writing
  3. Creating a Copy

Why do we Save Periodically?

People save periodically because we all make mistakes and have all, more than likely, have lost work from a computer crash or power outage. Periodic saving ensures that the work we have lost is minimized to some degree.

Even though we all have done this, not all applications require us to do this.  Many cloud and mobile applications do not have an explicit save operation because they automatically save for you.  Open up applications like Evernote or even Microsoft’s OneNote and there is no explicit Save button.  Their constant saving in the background has diminished the need to explicitly save.  If you are not familiar with apps like this, you look for save; however, after learning that it does not exist and building the trust of it saving from using the product, the need evaporates.

Why do we Save when Finished?

We save when we are finished to make sure that the last of our work will be there when the next person reads the document.  We save because we are finished editing.  However, if we can detect when we have finished our work, why could we not save automatically?

This is the behavior exhibited by other auto-saving applications as well.  Apps like MindNode for iOS and Mac save automatically; however, when a person is finished, they press the explicit “done” button and move on.  Doing such turns into a more natural flow of opening, writing, and finishing with no interruptions or extra steps.

What about Saving a Copy or the Initial Save?

This falls into a different behavioral change.  In many business applications like Microsoft Word you create a new file and you do not name the document until you save it for the first time.  If the save button is removed or is automatic, we need to invert this flow and ask for the document name first or in a way that has a smart default.  If we ask for a name up front, we could also say that this new document is a copy or is based off of another document as well.

Is it REALLY that Simple?

While I feel like there are a few flaws that I’m not seeing in my analysis of this new workflow, I also see it being the success of apps like MindNode.  Save is turning into an antiquated operation that could be automated.  Save is noise to a writer that could be removed in order to ensure focus and flow are maintained.  So is it important to talk about the redesign of the save icon, or is it time we completely begin to question the need to save explicitly?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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