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In order to disable everything else on the website and focus the user to what they are really doing, I came with the solution of adding a layer over everything except over the current form.

I don't really know if this is maybe a bit excessive for a Web application...

For example, in a reply form to add comments: enter image description here

What do you think about it?

Should the user be always free to do what they want rather than telling them what to do? If the user start writing a reply, maybe they want to stop it and do any other action such as rate comments or edit another answer... Is this way of telling them what do do very intrusive for them? (Using accept or cancel in every action)

Thanks.

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It's an interesting idea that needs to be tested. Just make sure that you aren't making every thing outside the window inactive –  JohnGB Jan 18 '13 at 14:51
    
Users will always do what they want rather than what you want. If they find it intrusive, they will run. I for one like to be able to read what I am commenting on and would find this overlay idea very obnoxious, unless: 1) the surrounding text remains readable and 2) I don't have to save or cancel, but can click away to do something else (read another comment) and come back later, preferably with the text I already entered still in the box. –  Marjan Venema Jan 18 '13 at 15:27

2 Answers 2

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Your suggestion is a bit like an in-line lightbox. It's a nice idea, but lightboxes and the like should only be used when you absolutely need to force a specific action or really need to grab the user's attention.

For example: when the user wants to delete something and he absolutely needs to confirm this action it makes sense to use a lightbox (but when you can, make deletion reversible: just delete the item and offer an undo function).

In the example you provided it doesn't make sense to force the user like that. Like you said, she might want to do something else, which just became impossible. Forcing an action should be used with extreme care. And when it's not absolutely necessary to force an action (like in your example), I simply wouldn't do it.

Note: forcing an action is something different than providing visual assistance to focus on specific action. For example: highlighting an active form field is good practice. Hiding everything (usually) else isn't.

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I think you've answered your own question. What you're doing is in fact creating a modal window effect that takes the user out of the page and onto a new level.

If the user must click on the grayed out page or on the cancel button to resume interaction with the page, you're complicating the flow that he is used to. Making him pay with an extra click/tap when he decides to no longer interact with the field.

A user test would give you better insight, but my expectations are users will more likely run into the annoyance of the extra click/tap than they will appreciate the help with focusing on the form.

P.S. Since this appears to be a ticket system, I expect users will frequently want to check details elsewhere on the page as they write their comments. It's more likely your mechanism will obscure that which they try to focus on to get their comment right.

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