I am involved in a redesign project (web app) where existing system throws quite frequent, random pop ups. These pop ups are used to gather information and also to display information and confirmation. Considering just to enter 1-2 form fields or checking and applying filter criteria popups were used. I am trying to get rid of these redundant pop ups. Now stakeholders are insisting on keeping most of the popups as they think users are very well acquainted to the system.

I am facing hard time convincing stakeholder 'why pop ups should not be used or atleast minimized' Any guideline/research suggesting scenarios for proper pop usage (when to use and when not to) will help me understand and convince stakeholders accordingly.

  • 1
    It sounds like pop-ups are just a symptom of a bigger question. Which do they want, a redesign, or something that the existing users are well acquainted with? Do they really want a redesign or just a fresh coat of paint? Commented May 27, 2013 at 12:22
  • Got your point! Indeed, as earlier system was using some old platform and now they want to migrate to Sharepoint 2010, its clearly redesign project. They have also realized pain points in navigation and few more usability issues, they think they have given freedom to design from users point of view. But if popups remain, its just another frustrating system as earlier.
    – Spicerjet
    Commented May 27, 2013 at 12:32

7 Answers 7


Pop-ups are great. They're usually called modal dialogs because a user cannot do anything but complete the task in the popup. This is their primary functionality and they're better and clearer at that than most similar solutions. In OSX you also have what they call Sheets, but they're a lot less clear about the fact that you need to finish them before you can go back to the main application.

Windows GUI guidelines speak of modeless dialogs, ones that still allow you to interact with the rest of the interface. They would still be in front of it though, and probably in the way. Take for instance the Pop-over described in the OSX Human Interface Guidelines: you can not really interact with the calendar behind the pop-over. The nice thing these kinds of dialogs is that they offer other exits: you can still reach a menu item on the parent window, go there and at the same time close the pop-over. It skips having to specifically tell the pop-over to close and allows you to get on with your task more smoothly.

So, dialogs, even the modeless ones, interrupt whatever the user was doing, break out of the visual layout of the screen and totally grab the user's attention. If this is what you need to accomplish, they rock and there are many use-cases for them.

However, this incredible power tends to be overused. The primary problem is with the idea that you get to decide what the user should be doing right now. Clients, tend to love that sense of control. They'll feel that information X is super important right now and that the user should drop whatever he was doing and give that information. Programmers also love that kind of control so that they don't have to deal with not having certain information.

However, this totally conflicts with what is important to the user. People like to have a sense of autonomy and control, kinda just like your client does. Pop-ups take control away from the user, demanding attention to something specific.

Pop-ups also break out of the flow of the application and therefore cannot be part of that flow. If you're trying to build an interface where the user can focus on performing a task, you should avoid using pop-ups for parts of that task. That what makes them so powerful also makes them so awful: a user will need to reconfirm their position on the screen ("what is this, where am I") as soon as the dialog opens, and then again when it closes. Pop-ups by their definition break concentration.

A very important concept in UX design is the idea of flow as a state of mind. While this is usually discussed in the context of games, because concepts like goals and control are obviously part of that, these things are important in everything we do. We should strive to create experiences that make people feel great, whatever they're doing. Key factors for that to happen include the following (from the linked article, emphasis mine), and note how pop-ups work against a number of these factors:

The studies have suggested that the phenomenology of enjoyment has eight major components. When people reflect on how it feels when their experience is most positive, they mention at least one, and often all, of the following:
1. We confront tasks we have a chance of completing;
2. We must be able to concentrate on what we are doing;
3. The task has clear goals;
4. The task provides immediate feedback;
5. One acts with deep, but effortless involvement, that removes from awareness the worries and frustrations of everyday life;
6. One exercises a sense of control over their actions;
7. Concern for the self disappears, yet, paradoxically the sense of self emerges stronger after the flow experience is over; and
8. The sense of duration of time is altered.

tldr: use pop-ups when you need to, but they're not needed as much as you think and they get in the way of flow, making your users unhappy


The simple fact is that a popup draws a user's attention away from the page and makes them pay attention to the popup. If the content of the popup isn't necessary or more important than the page content, then it shouldn't be there. If it is more important, then it should.

So without any clear information about whether the popups are critical or not, we can't really say whether or not they are justified. However, I can't think of a use case where many regular popups improve the UX.

If the popups just give information, it may be worth dedicating a portion of the page to that information. Something like a statusbar.


Carrying on with John's reasoning, popups are obstructive and annoying. They are most of the time just a redundant middle man that the accustomed user will blindly dismiss (out of habit) but never appreciate, and that the novice user will mostly find confusing and frustrating.

Just to illustrate a real world example, ask your manager if he/she would like to have two step doors installed in their house, where they would have to open two doors instead of one to enter each room in their house, just to "cater for that unique scenario when they start entering a room but decides not to".

Confirmation popups can be justified, but should mainly be a last resort for irreversible actions.


Coming just from a user point of view, I can't stand popups. The only ones I can tolerate are the ones which actually do require immediate action ('You're device is about to run out of battery' for example).

For your example, in the situation where fields may have not been entered adequately I would on submit, or when the user moves on to the next field (if there is one) highlight it in a way which draws the user's attention to the fact that an action is still required.


I suggest that you specify an alternative for the pop ups (something like modal windows, status bars as earlier suggested etc) creating some wireframes and showing how you plan to improve the UX and keeping things functional, people won't let go of something that is bad because deep inside they are still gaining something good from it, unless you present them an alternative that gives the same result but does it better, best regards.


Popups are useful if it is relevant to keep the user in his interaction context. For example, if your user is performing a task thank to a multi step process then additional information in a step can be collected thanks to a popup so the process is not broken and the context is always kept in use's mind.

Popups are also useful if optionnal information on a single element can be accessed (for example : more info, details, specifications, ...).

Popup that interupt the user should only be used for messages (confirmation, error, warning, ...).


Some rules I live by:

(1) Achieving a situation where a popup shows on top of a popup is equivalent to ending the world - don't do it, ever. The best way to do that is to not use popups at all, or extremely reservedly! Given Mobile OSs, e.g. Android (Sony's Android is even worse), may show popups of their own accord (the OS doing something), if you are solving UX problems in your app with popups then you are effectively helping to achieve popups on top of popups.

(2) Popups have LESS screen realestate. They are not a good thing, in any way, for a lengthy message. E.g. popup showing a legal document = UX crime. Mobile already has very limited screen realestate...

(3) The easiest places to click/touch are where you currently are and the corners of the screen. Popups force the User to focus on the central part of the screen, often moving away from where they were and having to click in one of the harder parts of the screen to click in. When you show a popup you literally make life hard for the User - consider that when you smother your UX with popups.

(4) Always dismiss a popup when the User clicks outside of the popup, otherwise you force User to do a hard thing just to dismiss the popup (refer to (3)).

(5) On Android, ensure the Back button dismisses the popup. Your clearly awesome UX does not warrant breaching the basics of the platform's UX.


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