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We are designing web based app that consists of forms. These forms have two main parts: big datagrid (table) and a panel that shows details about record selected in a table. There is a largely used option to perform actions on these records, and some of these actions require another (related) form. These forms are currently opened in modal windows. The problem is obvious: the user can't access information from the original form. Moreover, these modal forms can open other modal forms and so on.

So the question is: Is there any reasonable alternative to modal windows? My idea is to put these forms into some sidebar so that users can easily scroll back to the original form.

  • First I imagined a stack of forms, with new ones appearing at the bottom, but then its a long way to scroll up to the top form. Then I thought, sub-forms could open in a collapsable/foldable pane, so the user can hide/show them as (s)he likes. Nesting forms that way would provide something like a tree structure, but indenting sub-forms would keep losing you space. Another option might be to open each form in a tab, so the user can switch between them, but that might kill the concept of hierarachy. – joeytwiddle Jun 4 '14 at 18:08
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Modal windows opening up other modal windows is a recipe for disaster. An approach you should consider has two components; a form editor and form navigation.

If the forms are sequential in nature or nested, then a navigational component, similar to mileposts will help the user know where they are in the sequence, and facilitate navigation to previous stages/forms.

If the forms are not sequential but it's important for them to be persistent, then you should have a tabbed section or other navigational component that shows the user how many forms are open and allows them to easily switch.

If there is never any need to return to previous forms, then simply make them fleeting.

The key to any direction you take is creating a consistent form area, and a way for the user to know what form they are completing and how this particular form relates to others.

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