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when I read up about modal dialog boxes and their use, there is a lot of discussion on how they interrupt the user's flow and how they should be used sparingly.

What research is there suggesting modal dialogs are disruptive?

There are other issues that people have sighted with the use of Modals conflicting with the "Back" navigation on the browser. There are others who cite research on how they add to the cognitive load.

I agree with all those points, but they do bring value to the table which has to do with ensuring that the users can do other tasks without having to navigate away from the context

I see this being used in several popular sites such as

  1. Facebook: Using lightboxes to show larger photos
  2. Gmail: Compose message (it has two modes one is stuck to the bottom but another that is an overlay/modal/lightbox)
  3. JIRA: To create issues and tickets
  4. Amazon: To show close-ups and different angles for products .. am sure there are many more here

there are a few people who have spoken about this aspect and have accepted their utility as a navigation tool..

https://signalvnoise.com/posts/1149-modal-overlays-beyond-the-dialog-box

http://uxmovement.com/forms/best-practices-for-modal-windows/

People appreciate being able to accomplish a self-contained subtask in a modal view, because the context shift is clear and temporary. IOS guidelines (http://tableless.github.io/exemplos/pdf/guidelines-interface-mobiles/MobileHIG.pdf) cited by (https://ux.stackexchange.com/users/5058/naoise-golden)

I have also read through several discussions including this one The Usability of "Lightbox UIs" (one of the better discussions on the topic)

I would really like to know what is the general feeling NOW that they have been around for so long and seem to be very widely used. Most of the other discussions are very old like the one quoted which dates back to 2010.

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NOW it still depends, like it did since the dawn of GUIs. It generally is a matter of choosing the lesser of two evils here, it even has a name: satisficing. It boils down to: everything can be considered annoying to any user, you just have to figure out what is the least annoying and go with that :-)

example

A popular trend nowadays is simply to be as forgiving as possible (which is good practice in any case). What I mean by this, is instead of asking the user if he's "sure he wants to do something", just do it; but allow one to recover from a potential slip or mistake. An IMO great example of this is the delete function of gmail (at least on my phone), when I delete something, it immediately gives me an inline notification that allows me to go back. There are many examples of a simple, non-obtrusive toast pops up and tells me that I can undo my action.

The other way around is equally as important: saving your work. We shouldn't have to worry about losing stuff, so when my my computer crashes I don't want to have to worry that I've lost precious hours of work... Please don't ask me to do something positive (like saving), I'd rather "annoy" myself with deleting what I don't want (wich won't be that often honestly).

about dialogs in general

I don't think one could completely remove them in every occassion. For me, drastic changes that are very hard to recover from e.g. "Are you sure you want to format your entire hard drive?", are a great example of this. But make it clear that they're leaving their flow by for example graying out the entire background. If you do pop the question that will have a chance of providing a real problem for the user, auto-select/highlight the most favorable answer AND allow people to go away from the dangerzone in every way possible (pressing esc? a big X in the corner? Clicking in the overlayed grayzone?).

Filling in payment is generally better in a natural flow, where you don't seem to really leave your page, the experience stays the same from start to end; should you do that in a pop-up could be considered a break of the flow and will likely result in some customers not continuing to buy stuff.

Its not annoying, if you allow to keep doing your work, like with the Gmail example; you can still keep doing some research cross mails in your inboxes. The windows "some programs prevent your computer from shutting down", is IMO the worst possible solution as it it uncovers a whole lot of other problems (e.g. the "are you sure you want to save?" questions...

Conclusion

If the message is non-obtrusive you're allowed, but don't overdo it, consider the fact that people are not that big of multi-taskers as they think they are (and should they always be?). If something dangerous is about to happen, than please, by all means, pop them right out of their subconsious auto-pilot mode and prevevent them from making a HUGE annoyence for themselves. Thus, if it doesn't make sense to block the flow (e.g. finishing a payment) then don't do it ;-)

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