In web design, a modal is a dynamic UI (User Interface) element that emerges on top of the website’s primary content, temporarily pausing interaction with the rest of the page. This interactive overlay requires users to interact with it, such as entering information or making a choice, before they can return to the main page content.

Using a modal is a direct way of getting a user’s attention. No matter what they are doing or looking at, a modal will halt everything they are taking in, to gain feedback or notify the user of something happening as they navigate your website. As direct as a modal can be, they can also annoying or frustrate users, so it’s important to know the best way to use them in order to get the most effective results.

The first and arguably most important rule for using a modal is to pre-qualify your modal window. If the user didn’t do anything to prompt the modal window, they are going to be confused and most likely hit the “cancel” button as quickly as possible and avoid reading what popped up in front of them. For example, you know if you try to exit Word without saving your work, a modal window is going to pop up saying you didn’t save your most recent changes and prompt you to save.

In the digital world we live in now,  it’s important to ensure that modals are mobile-friendly. If a modal can’t be used as well on a mobile device as it can on a larger desktop computer, you will probably lose many of your users that are coming to your website.

Another important tip to keep in mind when using modals for your website is to ensure that the modal looks like something coming from your website. Scams are everywhere nowadays, so if your modal looks like it’s coming from a foreign place, users may think it’s a scam and exit out of your site as quickly as possible.

Don’t bombard your users. So often, we find that websites will have a modal with a newsletter sign-up as soon as a user lands on their website. The user hasn’t gotten anything out of your website, let alone hasn’t had the time to browse your homepage, so why would they sign up for a newsletter? Make sure modals enhance the user’s experience.

You can enhance a user’s experience through modals by allowing the modal to fragment complex workflow. If you are asking a user for a ton of information at one time, you may want to consider breaking up that information into simpler chunks through modals. However, don’t make your modals too complicated by making them more than one step. That could take this timesaver and make the task itself longer.

Modal dialogs can distract users from the task at hand. Therefore, it’s best to avoid using modals during significant tasks such as checking out. If a customer is trying to check out and gets distracted or frustrated with the modal popping up in front of them, they may not end up making the purchase at all. Be picky when it comes to the timing and place of your modals to avoid any setbacks.

Lastly, be sparing. While modals can be great to gather user information and feedback, you should always keep the user in mind when it comes to designing your website. Will this modal enhance their experience while also providing me with information to make their experience even better? Has the user gotten value out of my website before a modal pops up? These are just a few of the questions you should ask before placing modals within your site.