Sunday, September 18, 2005

Dialog Box, a bad user interface design element-Part I

Okay, “blog” readers, lets discuss something about user interface design issues.
There are so many of these but lets take one at a time and my random pick is dialog box.
There are so many things the way we design our user interfaces, which we can improve on and we should improve on. I have seen some applications, which we use on a daily basis improving on it but some still do it the old way. Most annoying feature of some of these applications is the modal dialog box. So let’s find out what is bad about these dialog boxes.

As we all know dialog boxes are classified as (1) Modal and (2) Modeless. Modal dialog box is that, which require a user to respond to it before doing any other action on the application which produced it. On the other hand a modeless dialog allows a user to perform other actions also, on the same application, while it is active.

Dialog boxes are useful when we need to get some input from a user or if we need to give a response back to a user. Dialog boxes become more helpful when a user is viewing a list of items and he/she wants to add another item. Using dialog box in this case lets user add another item, while viewing the list.

Now the real question, if a dialog box is so useful then what is wrong with it?
Well, out of the two types, modal dialog box is really the most annoying.
Consider “Font” dialog in MS Word. It is modal in nature and when it is active, it won’t allow you to do any other action on the word document you are working on. Consider its use now. This dialog box is used to change the “Font" properties of the selected text. So let’s say you select some text, open this dialog box to change font and then realize that you need to select some more text. The only option you have is to close this dialog and then select more text and then open it again. Now think if this dialog is modeless (just like “Find and Replace” dialog in MS Word), in that case you don’t need to close it to select more text. A small annoying issue is solved. (To our rescue, MS word has a font tool bar also to perform similar action, which most of us use.).

Now can we live without these dialog boxes? I would say minimize dialog boxes in your applications, especially, if it’s a web application. All those pop-up blockers on user’s machine can make your web application look infested with bugs.
There are some other alternative designs to dialog boxes also, and I will try to write something about that in my next blog, till then bye.

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