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Are New Pop-Ups the Old Flash Intros?

After a project was laid on me in the eleventh hour which had to be delivered in the twelfth, I found myself madly trying to educate myself on a foreign subject. The project and the subject doesn’t really matter. What mattered to me was collecting enough data for me to deliver it on time.  Google performed beautifully; but a lot of the sites failed. Why? Pop-ups.

Of course, they aren’t the pop-ups of years past, they’re “modal windows” or “lightboxes”. You’ve all seen them. You visit a page, the background fades to grey, and a simple little window automagically springs into existence. Sometimes they asked me to register. Sometimes it was a sales pitch. The reason didn’t matter. I was there to get content. And now you’ve covered it up and forced me to click on something to get to it.

Flash intro = Modal Window

I don’t think I’m alone in this aggravation or this argument. In 2004 Jakob Nielsen represented the pop-up as the most hated feature in web design.  And if Marketing Sherpa has reported that 80% of people don’t like Flash Intros, then how far off am I? Even The Oatmeal has registration pages and flash sites holding two spots on his list of 8 websites you need to stop building. Is that a clue that modal windows aren’t a healthy part of the user experience?

Modal Window ≠ Pop-Up

Now, I’ll debate myself on two of my previously mentioned citations. The Pop-Up window from years past was generated with JavaScript; a few lines of code forced the browser to create a new little browser window. So one source of aggravation to users was closing multiple windows. The modal window is actually the anti-pop-up pop-up. It uses a cleaner JavaScript method called Jquery to create the pop-up within the page. And I have to keep in mind that Flash intros were the Walmart Greeters of the Web. Pop-ups, though annoying actually could lend a purpose to the user experience.

Modal Window = Effective

So in the midst of my aggravation with these new-fangled pop-ups, I released a Tweet into the Twitterverse. Brett Duncan over at Marketing in Progress had an interesting response:

@paceaux I’m not so against pop-ups anymore when done well. I’ve boosted my list by 150% in 3 months with one.

Well, shoot. How do you argue against something like that?

And why was it so effective? Because you’ve singled out the user’s focus — or because the user doesn’t think he has a choice? If it’s good for business, does that mean it’s good for the users? I’ll let Brett weigh in.

Can we de-modalize the window?

So how do you maintain the clear effectiveness of the modal window without the compromised user experience? Maybe the key is still to create the window — but without covering content. That’s something I haven’t seen yet, so it sounds like I have some homework to do…

1 Comment


  1. //

    In my opinion, modal windows can be used in a way that benefits the user experience. There are probably many examples of bad modal window experiences that can be found. This doesn’t mean that it can’t be done well. It depends on the interface, objectives, accessibility, audience – many factors.

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