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Modals are often used to force the user to make a decision, so they're basically questions. Is it ok to present the question in the title of the modal?

Something about it rubs me the wrong way.

This does not include rhetoric questions, such as "Leaving so soon?" on some quit confirmation dialogs.

mockup

EDIT: To clarify - the question refers to the title of the displayed text, not necessarily to the title bar of the modal. Updated mockup above.

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From a lot of user testing sessions I've observed plus personal experience, many people seem to automatically ignore popup window titles. I believe it's from years of exposure to window titles that are not task-related. So, if you do do this, make sure the central content makes sense to someone who skips the title - or, make the title look more like a 'header' than a 'window title' (e.g. no separate bar, more padding, etc). –  user568458 Jul 8 at 13:42
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@user568458: exactly my experience as well (largely from shoulder surfing and support), and came here to post this. –  peterchen Jul 8 at 15:01
    
Yes, the primary focus is on the body text, but still we want to have the best title we can. –  Vitaly Mijiritsky Jul 8 at 15:12
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In what context do your modals have title bars? On the web, for example, most modal window implementations don't bother with title bars. –  DA01 Jul 8 at 16:04
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@DA01 I didn't say it had a title bar, it just has a title :). The sketch might be misleading in this sense, I just used the modal from the Balsamiq library. –  Vitaly Mijiritsky Jul 8 at 17:27

6 Answers 6

up vote 17 down vote accepted

My answer would be to synopsis the question of the modal form, so with the question being:

You are leaving the question with unsaved changes

The title would be:

"Unsaved Changes"

It's a pattern I've seen and used regularly, it's brief and informative.

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Not according to Microsoft.

Use title-style capitalization, without ending punctuation.

Source: Microsoft Guidelines for Windows, section about error messages.

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Also: "Use the title to identify the command or feature [or program name] from which the error originated". So the intended purpose of such titles seems to be, for cases where the user isn't sure where this message came from (note this advice is specific to error messages in Windows) –  user568458 Jul 8 at 16:30
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This looks like it isn't addressing the question as currently asked. –  Michael Kjörling Jul 9 at 14:06
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I'm not a UX expert, but AFAICT the OP doesn't necessarily mean error popups. –  11684 Jul 9 at 18:58
    
Same goes for message boxes in general. –  Bart Gijssens Jul 10 at 6:20

This area is normally giving you information on the type of question being asked (at least in my experience), so the question mark feels like the dialog is questioning itself.

I'm a "Save Changes" dialog... or am I?

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You'll find that nearly without exception, question form in modals is little appropriate.

On content vs interaction

Probably to core duality in all interfaces is the that of content and interaction. Respectively, what you can see and what you can do.

Cognitively, these are mapped to (so to speak) two cognitive processes - interpretation and action, which on a lower level some will define as 'pattern matching' and 'statistical coherence'.

On a modal window, the text is part of the content (interpretation), while buttons serve as interaction (action) elements.

Users start with the buttons.

Modals are often a barrier in the user's wish to complete a task. As such users often seek for action elements first.

Because of this, the common recommendation is to turn this:

mockup

download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

Into that:

mockup

download bmml source

But notice that while in the first example the buttons are logical answers to the question, the buttons in the second example are not. To the question "are you sure?" one should be offered "yes" or "no" options. Similarly, in your modal, "Discard changes", "Save changes" and "Stay on page" are not answers to the question "Save changes?".

mockup

download bmml source

To the answers "keep customer" and "delete customer", one should ask:

mockup

download bmml source

But this could make little sense - the user has just clicked 'delete' so why is the user being asked what she would like to do? The modal is not reflecting its nature as a guard.

Playing blackjack

Consider I play blackjack in a friendly casino. Now my cards add up to 20, and the dealer asks me:

  • "Hit or stand".
  • "Hit", I reply
  • "Are you sure?", asks the dealer.

There are two options here:

  • I know what I'm doing and understand why the question is being asked.
  • I have no idea what the rules of the game are.

Similarly, a user faced with a delete-guard modal may or may not have intended to delete something. So either the user just wants to progress, or they need to know why the warning is given (that is, what are the rules of the game). The thing is, that question don't do great in explaining these things. So in the following dialog:

mockup

download bmml source

importance is really bottom to top:

  • Actions first
  • Then reason
  • Then question (arguably not needed at all).

So possibly, the ideal form is:

mockup

download bmml source

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Microsoft doesn't always have the correct answer, but they do set the standard. In this case, I think the question is lost if it's in the title bar. I would probably phrase the text like this:

Title: Save Progress Text: You have unsaved changes on this page. Would you like to save them now?

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YES! It is but it has to fit the "design language".

We don't usually see punctuation in titles, that's a big graphical difference. Titles are also rarely full sentences.

So for a window I would say it's probably better not to do it. The thing is that modals don't need titlebars. They are not windows.

If you are able to make it work out graphically, in a way the user optically expects (according to the expected design language), it is definitely good to get to the point as soon as possible.

You should perhaps graphically merge the title into a sort of boldened introduction. You can also get away without a title at all. Or, surprise all of us. We love being pleasantly surprised :) (maybe just the answers in huge buttons?!)

Save changes? - You are leaving the page without saving your changes

mockup

download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

( Sorry for the exceedingly cheesy text and the overall quality of kerning, alignment, line height, etc. It hurts me more than you, trust me. )

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