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I'm wondering about non-resizable and non-movable modal dialogs. They seem really frustrating, especially considering that they interrupt the flow to fill a form or do a selection or whatever interaction is required. Many times I need to see some of the info underneath the modal, which is usually impossible unless I close the modal window.

I searched the site for an answer and couldn't find any. There's a relatively similar and quite old question on UX Stack Exchange Should modal dialogs be movable? with an accepted answer that says that modal dialogs shouldn't be movable and even mentions resizing. However, most of the arguments for that answer seem like arguments for actually doing the exact opposite.

Anyway, my question isn't much about if they should be resizable/movable or not, because I assume at this point it will be an opinionated question. Rather, I'd liek to know WHY is that the case other than interrupting the flow (which is interrupted anyway, so that is a non-argument).

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  • You'll need to find designers of unmovable dialogs to get answers... I am in the other camp ;-) Commented Dec 7, 2023 at 7:50
  • Most modal designs obscure the background, so moving it around has no use. If modals should obscure the background is a different but related question.
    – jazZRo
    Commented Dec 8, 2023 at 12:21
  • @jazZRo modals best practices include that the content below has to be obscured yet visible. Material recommends 32% opacity for the scrim, Bootstrap is .5, Foundation is 0.45, and JQuery UI has no background by default (ugh). Either way, all of them are very easy to read, even the Bootstrap one.
    – Devin
    Commented Dec 11, 2023 at 17:12

2 Answers 2

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My opinion: simplicity.

Justification: the original ROM-based Apple Macintosh. There was only 64KB of ROM, and basically the entire OS and GUI toolbox had to fit in it. Massive amounts of work were required in order to squeeze everything down to fit.

Dialogs were part of this, and by eliminating all potential frills, like sizing and movability, the amount of code required to have dialogs at all was made practical, for that environment!

If dialogs are moveable/sizable, then they can also be effectively lost or rendered unusable, which could well make the hosting application unusable if it's stuck in a modal situation expecting an answer. Now you need even more code in order to detect and handle situations like this, so that the application never appears locked up.

IMHO, justifications like 'dialogs interrupt flow' were added after the fact.

The rest is just history.

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  • this is a very good answer but it applies to GUIs, in today's websites doing this is trivial
    – Devin
    Commented Dec 11, 2023 at 17:13
  • I could/should have elaborated more on the 'history' part. "Why do dialogs act like this? Because that's how dialogs have always acted!" A major component of good UI is consistency...
    – jimc
    Commented Dec 31, 2023 at 18:43
  • They don't NEED to act like this, but if some part of your application is blocked waiting for an answer then things get MUCH more complicated for the rest of it, if you can do anything else instead of answer that question. And the complexities multiply rapidly at that point. Which means you have to solve all of that complexity if you don't want your application to be a rickety POS. Or... keep it simple and modal.
    – jimc
    Commented Dec 31, 2023 at 18:47
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Panels in general can pop up over a screen and be moved or resized, but the purpose of the modal as you're describing it is to force the user to focus on the task. The system needs the task to be completed in order for something else to happen. It might be interruptive or introduce friction, by design. This isn't necessarily bad UX, but it can be frustrating to create an interruptive dialog at the wrong moment for the user, or to interrupt when interruption isn't truly needed (such as a prompt to subscribe to a newsletter).

I think the main reason this happens is because developers really love using modals as a go-to answer for all interactions where it might work, and don't explore other options.

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  • I completely agree with everything you said, but it doesn't answer why modals behavior is set as it is now
    – Devin
    Commented Dec 11, 2023 at 17:15
  • The quick answer is that it's forcing the user to complete the task without distraction. Moving the modal could remove attention from it.
    – Izquierdo
    Commented Dec 11, 2023 at 17:32

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