In 2010 modal boxes arrived (pronounced like yodel).
If you are not sure what one is, click on the ‘I need a website’ button on this page
They have spread like wildfire. I love them. However, I have noticed some developers adding them to sites with such obsessive enthusiasm they run the risk of future browsers blocking them like their elderly outlawed ancestor, the pop-up.
What exactly is a modal box?
Pioneered by Lightbox a few years earlier, this slick dialogue box allows the user to view an external element, without leaving the page.
Unlike ‘modeless’ boxes such as a toolbar or the header on this site, a modal box requires an action before allowing you to move on. So strictly speaking, you can refer to every fugly pop-up asking ‘Are you sure you want to delete this ?’ as a modal. However, for this article and when developers talk about modals, they are usually referring to the Lightbox style.
So, what’s great about them?
Modals temporarily halt surfing. Growing scientific evidence suggests internet use is making our brains more susceptible to distraction, so we now all suffer from attention-deficit disorder! Modals help visitors focus on a specific task, with the background tint preventing distraction by other articles, until the ‘x’ is clicked.
Tasks where a visitor responds to a call to action, before resuming with the site, such as clicking on a link to watch a 90 second video or filling out a simple contact form are ideal for this.
Great. Make users do stuff. All good?
In my opinion, where modal boxes are becoming a blight on the cyberscape are:
1. The ‘Foot-in-the door Modals’
Popping up without request, they behave like someone jumping in front of you at a DIY store, asking if you want a double glazed window, whilst you search for the right drill-bit. This technique may work, but only in the short-term. This 1990’s style brash approach is not something today’s visitors will put up with.
2. The ‘Click-aholic modals’
Slowing the user down, will not ‘make them focus’ on the subject matter. When has a frustratingly awkward interface ever made you engage more in the subject matter?
For example, in a thumbnail gallery, having to click on each image to view the full size image, then click again to close it, will discourage visitors from viewing more images. A ‘hover gallery’ may be better, where the user skims the cursor over the thumbnail and a full size image(or paragraph) pops up in turn.
So, if you are going to break someone’s journey through your site with a modal box, make sure it’s firstly their choice and secondly it’s because it requires an action. Then, with a little luck, this great new addition to the on-line experience won’t be blocked, as default, from future modern browsers.