There are a lot of “UX Patterns” floating around; some are good, some are just common. But I think it is more valuable to learn the “sub patterns” that seem universal through all apps, sites, and products.
“Create, Edit, Delete” is one of those.
Learn it once, use it forever.
There are certain types of features that come in sets. When I say a “set” I mean: if you have one, you usually need the others.
If you are designing an app or site that allows users to generate content, you should know this set of functions like a reflex. They can be together on a page or spread throughout the product, but odds are they are there somewhere.
Create, edit, delete.
As you’re reading this, you should think loosely about the words I have chosen. “Create” can mean “publish” if the user is making a comment or a blog entry, or it can mean a commitment if the user is launching a company profile, or adding a credit card, or posting an item for sale. There are hundreds of things you can “create” on the internet. This applies to all of them.
“Edit” might mean adjusting the settings, or correcting a typo, or moving a photo to another album. Whatever. Edit = change.
And “Delete” might mean removing something from a list, or closing your account, or erasing that comment you made when you were angry.
Must have, nice-to-have, or abuse tool?
In most situations, you should consider these three functions a set. They go together. If you create something, there is a good chance you will want to change it or get rid of it in the future. If the user will ever need to do these things, plan them, design them, and make them easy.
I have worked on sites where it is easier to create a new account rather than change the old one (not good) so users do that instead. The result is millions of “dead” accounts, or worse.
That being said, it is always worth asking yourself if you actually need or want users to be able to edit or delete things they have created. Twitter, for example does not allow you to edit a tweet once it has been posted. There a number of possible reasons for this, from technical complexity to making them more reliable as links. Or maybe nobody thought of it (I doubt it.)
Sometimes, allowing users to edit things allows them to abuse those features, and in those cases you may not want to allow it.
Or, maybe deleting a key piece of content causes a hierarchy of other content to become meaningless, like on Reddit, when someone deletes a comment with 100 replies.
It’s worth considering.
If you create it, where does it go?
Many young or inexperienced UX designers design the fun parts first, like a photo gallery, and after spending hours creating a perfect layout for a photo, caption, tagging, and other details, they forget that nobody made a form to create captions and tags in the first place!
The opposite can happen as well: you spend so much attention on that super-detailed form, you overlook the fact that you have asked the user for information you don’t actually use anywhere.
It sounds obvious, but you might be surprised how often it happens, even with professionals.
I was once asked to look over the plans for a new social network, and after going through about 50 pages of wireframes, my only question was “where is the user’s profile?”
Oh yeah, that!
They had forgotten it, even though 10 other pages linked to it.
And, once upon a time, I personally discovered (and fixed) a credit card form that asked for your name and address as part of a purchase and then it literally — technically, in the code — ignored that information. Everyone just assumed it was being used somewhere else. All we had to do to simplify the checkout was remove something we had never needed.
So next time you allow a user to create something make sure you know where its going, and the next thing that crosses your mind should be “edit and delete!”