When is the right time to use a modal window? | BitBakery Software

When is the right time to use a modal window?

April 25th, 2024 by Attila Schmidt

Take a second and think about the last app or website you used. 

You might have been posting a reel to Instagram, depositing a cheque in your banking app, or signing up for a class at your gym. Was there a step that was confusing or you wish you could skip? All too often, the answer to this question is yes—and that’s a problem.

The simplest-to-use interfaces appear almost seamless to users. The job of any interface is always the same—to help the user confidently accomplish a task in as few steps as possible. Doing this has gotten more challenging as we’ve moved from green screen text interfaces to desktop applications to smartphones. As user experience designers, we want to create the types of interfaces that people love to use, but we also design to meet client, security, and regulatory requirements.

One way we do this is by using modal dialogs in web and mobile applications. Modal dialogs have been part of user experience flows since the first graphical user interfaces were developed in the late 1970s and early 1980s. When used right, modals enhance the user experience by making it clear to the user what is required, whether that’s information, acceptance or rejection of terms, or critical information to help the user accomplish the task.

In this post, we’ll examine modal dialogs and when and how to use them effectively.

What is a Modal Dialog?

A modal dialog—also known as a modal window or lightbox—is an interface component that appears in front of the main window. When a modal appears, the user cannot interact with the main window until they either complete the action or cancel the step. Modals focus the users' attention on critical actions or information in a website or application.

Modals have many benefits for users and designers alike, including:

A modal dialog showing a user onboarding flow

One important thing to remember here: modals and pop-up windows are not the same.

Modals help move the user along a workflow and must be completed or dismissed. Pop-up windows (the bain of many of our lives) don’t prevent users from simply clicking back to the main window. They can exist in the background without affecting the workflow. They’re also really annoying.

When Should You Use a Modal Window?

Desktop, web, and mobile applications share many of the same user interface components, including modal windows. Consider using a modal window when:

A modal showing the user an important notification (left), a modal for mobile onboarding (right)

Three Things to Consider When Using Modals

When you’re considering modal windows in a user experience flow, it’s important to remember:

Modals (and Design) Done Right

Modal windows can be a core component of great user-centric design when used right. They give your users a guided path through essential tasks to create memorable experiences, all while reducing points of friction and frustration. 

Ready to take your project to the next level? Our team is here to help. Contact us today to learn more.


Photo by Hal Gatewood on Unsplash

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