Assume an application that shows a number of lists, each containing zero or more items. An item consists of exactly 2 values.

I wonder whether the application should provide a modal for adding an item or rather add a blank one, then let the user fill it in.

I have some pros & cons for both variants:



  • The user gets focused on the task he just decided to do. There is no necessity of figuring out where exactly something happened on the screen.

  • One can include a brief explanation of how to actually complete the task without breaking the rest of the UI.

  • One can ad big, clearly visible UI elements to interact with the data that should be entered (e.g save, cancel), thus, even users with low experience in using computer applications should be able to figure out how to save this item they just wanted to add


  • It may be cumbesome to implement all these modals instead of a blank item
  • Continuous popping up of modal windows may be annoying to some users

Blank Item


  • This might be the more convenient way to accomplish this, at least from the developers point of view.

  • It fits nicely in the workflow of the application, disrupting the user as little as possible


Basically the 'pro' Side on modals.

How should I do this? are their other points to add to the comparison above?

  • I'll add some points here as comments (as I don't have an answer to your actual question, I don't want to add them as an answer); feel free to include them into the list in your question: Jan 12, 2015 at 20:32
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    Modal-Pro: The user is entirely sure when the changes will get committed/saved, and they can also discard their new item with a single click. ; Modal-Pro: More than one item can be inserted at a time. For example, a dialog box is still intuitively usable if, in a textbox for a number, the user enters something like 5-20, and after clicking OK, 16 new items, each with one of the numbers between 5 and 20, are created (possibly after a confirmation like "This is going to create 16 items. Proceed?"). In a blank item, this could become highly confusing. Jan 12, 2015 at 20:35
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    Modal-Pro: The editor for some complex data might well be much more space-consuming than a mere display (e.g. title + ID + color = three input controls, but in a mere list display, the item might well be shown as a single colored text showing the name, with the ID appearing only in a tooltip), and some of the item settings might even be so insignificant that they need not appear at all in the overview list. Modal-Pro: Several items can be edited at a time (in the dialog box, any conflicting fields are blank (= do nothing) unless explicitly written to). Jan 12, 2015 at 20:38
  • Blank Item-Pro: It is easier to copy/drag and drop (or just look up) values from other parts of the UI while filling out the item settings step by step, as the other parts are not disabled. Modal-Pro: If a future program version requires more settings, adding those to a modal dialog box is trivial, while adding more inline editors to a list might have its limits. Jan 12, 2015 at 20:42
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    @rohansingh1712, Trello actually supports both, interestingly enough. You can add cards quickly by going to the bottom of a list, clicking "add a card..." and then hitting [Enter] after each entry. Very handy.
    – Dane
    Jan 13, 2015 at 20:14

2 Answers 2


When deciding between a modal and inline entry, consider what is communicated to the user by your choice:

Inline Blank Entry

  • "You're going to be doing this a lot, so we don't want it to be a big deal."
  • "Don't worry too much, this is easy to fix if you make a mistake."
  • "We expect you to enter multiple items."

Modal Dialog

  • "Please focus. This is too important to let you do anything else right now."
  • "Are you sure this is correct? This dialog will disappear."
  • "One at a time, please."

Your pros and cons are pretty solid. The only contention I have is that I don't think that a person needs to hunt for where action happened in the case of adding it inline.

If the user has to enter many items at a time on the list, inline will feel much smoother. The big risks I'd see with inline are if any of the following are true:

  • Item entry requires explanation in addition to column titles.
  • The inline line that you're adding may be off-screen while you are still looking at the list (for example, if the list is very long)
  • If the content going into the fields may exceed the size of the input element that fits in those fields (as a rule, you want to be able to see the entirety of the text you're entering)

To me, those would be deal-breaker issues for inline adding.

You can also try doing both and putting in a mechanism to track usage of each option to make your decision more empirical in the future.

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