User friendly apps, Dialogs part 1

In this first article about how to design user friendly apps we will discuss the use of Dialogs.

Though most of what's said here applies to all platforms, it is targeted at the Android platform. What's written is also just my personal opinion, but I believe you will agree with most of what is said here.

What's the deal with dialogs

A dialog can be used to remove certain elements of the main UI and isolate it to a separate part of the software.

Overusing dialogs will for sure make the app appear cluttered and less intuitive.

Use with restrictions!

Dialogs in Apps

Let's first determine what a dialog is and when it should be used. A Dialog should be presented to the end user when a decision has to be made. You might also have noticed that there are plenty of cases where a dialog is presented with no other option than "Ok". Though there are some instances when that is fine, most of them could be replaced with a "Toast" or simply supressed.

Dialog with just Ok

When is it "ok" to use a dialog with just one option?

How essential is it that the user see your message?

I've seen plenty of apps for Android that shows a dialog directly at startup presenting the ChangeLog, and even if this dialog is shown only once, I don't think that the majority of users gain from being forced to read it. A Toast telling that the changelog is available at your web site or somewhere in the menu system wouldn't make your app less usable. Instead you would free your users from one touch on the screen.

So when should it be allowed to use a dialog with just one open?

If an error occur, or if there is something absolutely essential that your users need to know.

Toasts are an excellent part of the Android Framework that can give your users information without requiring any user interaction. The less user interaction your software requires, the more user friendly it is.

Confirmation Dialogs

I'm sure you've noticed that a large number of apps will display a confirmation dialog when you try to exit. "Are you sure you want to exit?".

This is just plain wrong. If a user accidently exits your app I'm sure he will know how to start it again.

There is however one condition where you can be excused for have a confirmation dialog, and that certain condition is for when the user is in the risk of loosing unsaved changes.

But, you could just auto save all changes when the user exits the app. This can be a bit of a tough balance act though as the user might actually not want to save the changes.

Just keep in mind to try to reduce the number of dialogs!

Composite dialogs

Composite dialogs are what I call dialogs with more than just text and buttons. Perhaps it could be a dialog with input boxes for user sign ups or logins.

These dialogs can be useful and have the potential to reduce the clutter from the main UI flow.

However, never ever show one of these without it being initiated by a user action such as a click.

If your app requires your users to sign in, your app will look much nicer if the login part fills the full screen and then display your UI when the login succeeds.

Supressing repeated dialogs

There are cases where you really need to get the users input on something. Perhaps you might want to ask them if they're sure they allow you to connect and gather information from your device.

To reduce the amount of required user interaction, you should always allow the user to suppress future dialogs with the same question.

To summarize

Think twice before adding a dialog to your software. Dialogs can be of great help and if used correctly they can improve the user experience for your software.

Overusage of dialogs will for certain make your app less intuitive, and potentially annoying to use.

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 User friendly apps, Dialogs part 1

In this first article about how to design user friendly apps we will discuss the use of Dialogs.

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