I had always believed that popups, opening in new browser windows, were bad practice for various reasons including: Breaking the flow, bad for accessibility, potential to hide content etc.

While looking at the FAQ's and help sections of sites including: Natwest, Chelsea Building society, LLoyds TSB.

sshots: Chelsea Natwest TSB

I noticed they used popups for their help sections. I assumed the benefits of this could include:

  1. Allow the user to focus on the task at hand (finding answer to a question)
  2. Allow the user to toggle between the FAQ information and their original page

This led me to a couple of questions:

  1. Do these reasons (and others) provide a good argument for using popups?
  2. Are the general usability issues associated with popups greater?
  3. Are there any alternatives patterns that would suit FAQ/help tasks?
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  • Can you provide some screen shots of the pops you mention (Natwest, Chelsea, etc.) ? – rk. Jun 19 '13 at 13:58
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    Also, related question ux.stackexchange.com/questions/4847/… – rk. Jun 19 '13 at 14:06
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    When you say popup, do you mean a new window/tab or within the site itself? The uses cases would differ. – Llepwryd Jun 19 '13 at 18:32
  • It looks like you want to discuss modal dialogs in a broad sense, as well as possible uses for popups in Help/FAQ situations. It can't be both. If it's the former it's already covered before and this isn't the right place for a discussion on such a broad topic. If it's the latter, perhaps you could rephrase the question to be clearer and more focussed. – Koen Lageveen Jun 20 '13 at 6:49
  • These examples all launch a popup window, sized (not full screen) and with most of the browser chrome hidden. I wanted to understand if there are situations where using a popup(new browser window) is beneficial and is this situation one of them? Or whether they are now redundant with the advent of modal windows and other in-page methods of delivering the content. – Sheff Jun 20 '13 at 8:11

While the ability to view one browser window next to another would be a nice way to have a help file next to the main content, it doesn't quite work like that:

  • people don't necessarily have the screen real estate
  • the window won't necessarily open next to the main window, requiring you to move it around and probably scale it so it fits
  • browsers might block the popup
  • browsers might not support popups at all, like those on smartphones and tablets
  • and it won't work if the main window is full screen

Besides those practical issues, it's still bad practice to open a popup window just like it always has been. Your website should stay inside it's window and leave the window management to the user. In fact, why don't you offer contextual help inside the window the user is already looking at? As it stands, pop-ups are pretty much never the best solution for a problem, which is what gave them the reputation they have.

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  • Thanks. I have always agreed that you should leave all decisions on new windows etc, in the hands of the user. With regards contextual help - in page: I particularly like solutions and am a little suprised not to see it used more. – Sheff Jun 20 '13 at 15:02
  • @koen Can you share the source of the quoted criteria? – rk. Jun 20 '13 at 19:29
  • @rk. You mean the quoted list with 3 point? That's simply the summary from the actual question. I'll edit it out though, doesn't really add any clarity.. – Koen Lageveen Jun 20 '13 at 20:38
  • @KoenLageveen Ah, ok. Nvm – rk. Jun 20 '13 at 20:39
  • While popups should be generally discouraged, popouts can be appropriate in certain circumstances. Gmail allows the user to pop out email and chat windows which can be helpful for users who do have the screen real estate to support multiple windows. JIRA uses a popup for a formatting help dialog which is useful to keep next to the editing screen when composing messages. – zzzzBov Jun 21 '13 at 5:02

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