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In a rich web application built on ASP.NET, which is preferred for editing data items in the system: a pop-up dialog or edit on the same page?

The use case is a person views an item's details and (if granted permission) clicks a button to modify the item's values. Should the button open a modal dialog or replace the page with editable controls? Currently, I'm using asp:FormView (the web application is built on ASP.NET) with command buttons to change the mode, thus replacing the page with different templates for viewing read-only details or editable controls.

When multiple items are viewed using a GridView, editing an individual item opens a model dialog so the context of the GridView page is retained. The question is should the detail page open a modal dialog to edit?

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This question is not related to profile pages, which is the subject of this similar question Should edit details form be in a modal dialog or directly on the page? –  Doug D. Mar 28 '12 at 13:24
    
You may want to have a look at this question. It may not be totally along the lines of what you're asking but it could give you some pointers. –  AndroidHustle Mar 28 '12 at 13:26
    
@AndroidHustle, thank you for the quick reply. I read the question and answers carefully. That question is more specifically focused on modal dialogs that interrupt the workflow (eg, are you sure?). In my case, the dialog would be the part of the workflow. Seems like the asp:FormView naturally edits in the same page, but also need to consider using a pop-up dialog instead. –  Doug D. Mar 28 '12 at 14:12
    
you're right, that's what I thought also. It's a good idea trying to examine different approaches, hope you get some good feedback! –  AndroidHustle Mar 28 '12 at 14:28

2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

The reason a web application opens a modal dialog is generally because the URL does not retain full navigational context... common in AJAX heavy websites. However, typically when you click a link to view the details of a particular item the URL should (if you are following best practices) provide full context needed to return to that view. Because of this, there is no reason to use modal dialogs to edit the content, as you can precisely return to where the user was after editing is complete.

When the content to be edited is easily contained in a single screen, I have frequently see sites use the 'faux modal dialog' that put a 50% fade over the page and overdraw the dialog (complete with close button in the top right). This provides nearly identical functionality to going to an edit page, but retains visual context of where the user is, and confirms to the user that they will be returned to that page when done. This solution is less user friendly the larger the number of inputs you process, and does require significant additional development effort if it is not supported natively by your current web framework.

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I think it depends if the user wants to edit a single item or multiple items. For a single item a popup might be clearer (actually, a usability test which I ran last year points to this conclusion). It provides a clear entry and exit point, and the user feels to be in control (if the application updates the content immediately).

However, for multiple items the user would expect multiple forms/controls etc. to be more efficient. For a grid or table many users expect Excel-like behaviour.

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