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Guidelines for using links vs. buttons

According to Jakob Nielsen, links and buttons have different uses:

- Links are for navigation. They are used to move between pages in an information space.
- Buttons are for actions that cause some chance (e.g. adding a product to shopping cart).

But there are exceptions to the rules:

- Buttons can be used to move from page to page in a workflow process (e.g. "continue shopping" and "proceed to checkout")
- Links can be used for secondary actions with minor consequences.

The so called "command links" have the benefit that we can write longer command names and thus make them more descriptive. To reduce confusion, the link text should explicitly state that it leads to an action by making the first word of the link an imperative verb.

Another benefit to command links is that we can add explanatory text below the link. The text can be presented in a smaller typeface to emphasize its secondary nature.


  • Command Links Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - May 16, 2007

See also: Guidelines and Standards (15)  Links (19)  Forms (30)  Navigation (63) 



Although I don't have any direct experience with the 'command link' UI widget in Vista, I'm very concerned that this article by Jakob Nielsen seems to give approval for using hypertext links in Web pages to initiate actions, something traditionally reserved for form buttons.

There are two very important reasons for actions to be very distinguishable from links - allow users to not fear clicking things, allow software agents to traverse links and be useful programs without modifying or destroying data.

I've written about "A link is not a widget" a couple times link is not a widget

MikeD | May 21, 2007


Particletree has an excellent article on buttons, both the Input element and lesser known 'Button' element, which is a link that can be made to look like a button by including img.

Definitely worth a read (as opposed to Nielsen's sweeping impractical generalizations)

Pauric | May 24, 2007



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