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Consider this WordPress screen:enter image description here

I have seen this a few times, where the usual "close" word is replaced by the word "OK". Please note that everything else works as with any modal, you can click outside the modal and it will close anyways. However, the user intention (to close the modal) is not explicit anywhere.

On further research, I have noticed that this happens only when plugins are installed or WP displays a message, but if it requires some kind of action (like, for example, installing a plugin) the word OK is replaced by X (see below)

enter image description here

My question is: isn't this behavior adding more friction than an usual close or X sign? Is there any kind of studies on this conditional behavior for closing elements?

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    Wow, that is a very sneaky "ok" button. "OK" doesn't even explain what the action is doing. Ok what? "Ok, install this"? "Ok, I saw this page now I want it to go away"? Seriously, I'd say the best solution is to put a "close" or "cancel" secondary button next to the install button. – Lucas Cerro Jun 16 '16 at 11:24
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That looks like it may just be a WordPress thing, but I think the best practice for a modal like that would be to have all possible actions shown as buttons at the bottom (perhaps including "Install Now" and "Cancel" for this example), and to only have an "X" button at the top to close/cancel.

The reason for this would be to mimic native OS modals, which usually have an "X" at the upper right, and any actions as buttons within the popup panel.

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"OK" is a viable Close label when the window is strictly informational.

Here are some icons you can think of as being associated with this kind of information:

..and more here

You're identifying all the correct things

  1. "OK" is entrapping
  2. It can be ambiguous

When you use it, you need to ensure that the context lacks ambiguity. For this reason, informational displays are the best option.

Regarding if the "OK" can be placed in 'uncommon' locations: it really comes down to the success of the overall design. As a rule of thumb, if you don't see many apps using it, the chances are that the user could be become confused unless the implementation is objectively 'beyond obvious.'

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