by anthony on 03/19/11 at 3:12 pm
Users used to see popup windows everywhere on the web. Today, modal windows have taken its place. With modal windows dominating the web, popup windows are now a thing of the past.
Modal Windows are Better
Before modal windows came, users had to manage multiple windows on their screen because popup windows would open a separate window on top of the user’s current window. With modal windows today, users don’t have to deal with multiple windows. When a modal window opens, it opens inside the current page. This means that users only need to work within their browser window and don’t have to deal with extra windows popping up. It also makes the window that opens feel more like it’s apart of the website.
Modal windows are harder to miss than popup windows. With popup windows, users can often miss them because they don’t grab the user’s attention. When users click the browser window, the browser window comes to the front and the popup window hides behind it. Users can easily miss an important window by accidentally clicking the browser window and not even know it. Modal windows are easier to notice because they’re often styled in a way that matches the website theme. Popup windows use the operating system theme and controls, making one harder to distinguish from another.
Modal windows also darken the background to cut the background noise. This allows users to focus on the content in the window. This is effective because when an important dialog box opens, you want users focused on reading the message so that they can make the correct decision. When an image gallery opens, you want users focused on the images without getting distracted by the elements in the background. When users are configuring options or entering their information, you want users focused on finishing their task before they going back to the browser window.
Modal windows are also safer and more secure for users. When they open, they don’t look or feel like an ad. Popup windows are easy for users to dismiss as ads because many popup ads open the same way. Users could also have ad blocking software installed on their browser that would block all popup windows. This means that some users won’t have a clue if they missed something important because their popup blocker won’t even show the window.
Many designers criticize modal windows for all the wrong reasons. The problem isn’t with modal windows, it’s with designers using modal windows improperly. One criticism is that modal windows don’t allow you to refer back and forth between two sources of information. If the user needs to refer back to the browser window for information, a modal window is the wrong interface widget to use. The real purpose of a modal window is to completely take the user’s focus and attention off the browser window to the new window. This is a beneficial user constraint that’s needed for important user interactions.
For example, if an important dialog box opens, users need to see it. All of their attention needs to shift from their current workflow to the important message. Another example is when a modal window opens and users need to do a specific action. A modal window forces users to complete that action before going back to the browser window. This makes users more productive because they’re doing one action at a time instead of multi-tasking. Users are less likely to get confused and lost in their workflow because of the control and constraint modal windows have.
Modal windows are a useful and effective interface widget to use when designers use them right. They’re so much better than popup windows, that it’s no wonder why popup windows today are nearly extinct. Modal windows have changed the web for the better. Despite the criticism they get, they’re here to stay.