Layers vs. Pop-ups Best Practice?

27 Jan 2011 - 1:49pm
5 years ago
4 replies
2479 reads

Hi all,

Does anyone know what the best practices for using layers vs. pop-ups for login/password reset or other account management tasks?

We have a situation where we have implemented layers for these types of functions for a financial site and users with older browsers are not able to access them because the older browsers do not support layers. 

From my perspective it seems that this is an "old technology" issue and not so much a usability problem and that users should update their browsers, but I wanted to see what you all thought.

Thanks! Jane



28 Jan 2011 - 2:16pm

If by "layers" you mean CSS {position: absolute} HTML elements (e.g. DIV) then, yes, I would argue that browsers not supporting that technique can be recommended for upgrade.  Of course, your user community should really define how much you can tell them what is or is not supported. 

One thing I would avoid is trying "code around" the situation and design for both scenarios: layering and popups.  The code needed to support both methods would be complex and not easy to maintain by junior staff. 

28 Jan 2011 - 4:01pm
Matt Lutze

Hi Jane, looks like we might have a nice point-counterpoint here.

If a significant enough group of your users has complained that you're looking into it, I think it means many more are having the problem but simply not talking about it. Is there a really good reason the content in those divs can't be loaded as separate pages? Detect the user's browser on initial site landing and, if it's old and unable to deal with the newer code you're using, load different link targets for "Administer your profile" or "Forgot your password?" so that regular pages load.

Basically, it's really not appropriate to require your users to upgrade their browsers to access content almost universally given its own page. Not having interacted with your system I don't see a compelling reason to only offer the workflows through modals other than because it's the newer, flashy thing to do. In this case, I feel it's your job to gracefully and transparently degrade your product to their level of ability to use it, not their job to jump through hoops to get to you. Many of them simply won't, and, if I may be glib, I'm sure one of your competitors will offer then what they're looking for.

28 Jan 2011 - 6:50pm
Christopher Rider

I would very strongly recommend against using popup windows for login/timeout.

Popup windows are a bad idea in almost all situations, and for core application functionality they are a complete disaster. Aside from the fact that they make the user feel like the browser is out of their control, popup-blocking software is becoming ubiquitous, so it is very likely that a large subset of your users will never see the window. Not to mention, they can tie screen-readers in knots.

Here's an alternate approach. Use layers for browsers that support them. For older browsers, go the old-school route - take the user to a new page. This degradation path will have the added benefit of working fairly well in things like mobile browsers.

As an aside, just how old are these browsers you're talking about?  Layers have been supported to some degree since roughly 1999. A reasonably competent webmonkey should be able to produce a modal layers solution that works back AT LEAST to Internet Explorer 6. All commonly used versions of safari, firefox, opera, chrome, etc. are a piece of cake.

Hope this helps.

31 Jan 2011 - 12:00pm

Thanks all for your responses.  I think I will propose Christopher's solution - for older browsers, take users to a new page.  I have yet to hear exactly how many users are having a problem, but since customer service is complaining about the # of calls, we have to address the issue.  Thanks again!!

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