A brief introduction into a widely used design element
I was recently asked about my understanding of modals and their use when designing an application. The modal is an element that introduces a secondary mode to a website. It is often compared to a pop-up window; however, a modal requires the user to interact with it’s content before regaining access to the page. We often see modals as log-in or sign-up pages that the user must interact with prior to accessing the website’s content. They can also be used for forms, promotional content, and critical messages.
Modals help to visually focus a user’s attention and simply direct their actions. Because they temporarily deactivate the main webpage content, users must engage with the modal, either by following the suggested action or clicking to exit. A best practice when using a modal is that the content within the modal window should help to assist the user with their goals and avoid getting in the way of their goals.
When styling a basic modal, simplicity is key. The main page content should be darkened or blurred, highlighting the modal window’s content. Centering the modal on the viewing page helps to bring visual focus. W3Schools has some excellent guidance for styling a simple modal in CSS.
Modals are disruptive by design and should be used with clear intention so as not to detract from the user experience. Overall, they are an excellent tool to highlight details, bring visual attention, and engage users when used thoughtfully and intentionally.