firstly, thanks for reading!

I am involved with the design of a finanial web app that is primarily tablet/large screen based (however will have to work on mobile). I am not responsible for the actual design, which is being created by a 3rd party, but I am responsible for auditing the usability/UX aspects of it.

The 3rd party has implemented a modal approach to delivering the core onboarding journey (over the dashboard) - now, I think this is not an, ahem, optimal solution and I am aware that modals have issues. This article (What research is there suggesting modal dialogs are disruptive?) explains some of it.

An example of what they are designing This is an example of what they are designing

I am hoping that you can help me to explain to non technical management why use of modals for the main journey is not a good idea. Simple examples would be great. :)


2 Answers 2


I'm not convinced that the question you linked to is entirely appropriate for your use case.

The accepted answer on it seems to be for circumstances where modals contain notifications which are secondary to the main task. In your situation the modal contains the primary task, so it is not distracting you from anything. From this view point, having everything in a modal would not be a distraction and would not impact usability, as there is nothing else to distract from.

Putting that to one side, using modals for primary tasks is a bit mental.

Firstly, modals can be closed by accident, potentially losing information that you have entered. You can prevent clicking outside the modal from closing it, but then, really, how is your modal any different to a separate page anyway?!

Secondly, you are toying with web conventions for no appreciable reason, which may cause users to lose trust in your system. Users cannot click any of your other navigation buttons and are not 'connected' to your main web page experience. Personally it would make me feel a bit claustrophobic!

It sounds like the site is an attempt at creating a SPA without the technical clout to properly implement this.

If I were you I would do two things:

  • Try to find out why a modal is being used for the primary action instead of a dedicated page.
  • Recommend that, if the reasons given for using modals are spurious, that they be replaced with proper pages (traditional, or as part of a proper SPA), in order to increase user confidence in the system.

If in doubt, test with real users.

hope that helps :)

  • Thanks, it does indeed help. I wholeheartedly agree, it is more than a bit mental. I have to convince my COO & CEO that this is not going to go well with the target demographic. I haven't even gone into how this will work on a mobile device yet...
    – steviefish
    Commented Jul 26, 2017 at 10:09
  • +1 For it feels like an attempt at SPA (by the 3rd party) without doing it properly.
    – TripeHound
    Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 10:32

Modals for offer a feeling of urgency and expedience which can be beneficial. The cost is that they increase complexity and diminish the user's sense of agency.

More specifically:

  • Any modal not appearing in response to a user action will feel like an unwanted hijacking, so if you must do so, it's better to show a dedicated view from the start, rather than bait-and-switch.

  • Any lengthy or or non-linear scenario will strain modal limitations and should be given dedicated views. Conversely, swift, linear progressions are a great candidate for a modal.

  • Any scenario requiring significant amounts of thought or outside info can cause anxiety that will be exacerbated by a modal view. Conversely, simple, self-contained scenarios (logins, wizards) are great candidates for modals.

None of this means that modals or dedicated views are definitely right or wrong in the general case, but together they can help guide decisions in a specific case. As always, the real answer is the one that proves out in testing, and also as always, answers are prone to change over time.

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