Test for popups (if you really must use them)

tools & techniques,user-topia | Wednesday, December 13th, 2006

Here’s an easy bit of javascript that helped me solve a big usability problem.

The issue: we designed an application that requires users to fill out a form, then displays their errors in a popup window. It’s a lengthy form that can present many errors, so showing the errors on the form itself wasn’t a good solution. We chose the dreaded popup window. Certainly our choice warrants further debate, but the coding is done and here we are.

Our thinking: we’ll explain to people how to allow popups for our site, and their popup blockers won’t be a problem. (Tools – Options – Popups – Allow. Not so hard.)

Not so. In end-user testing, we realized that some people don’t know they have popup blockers in the first place. Hence, they don’t try to unblock our site.

Example: “I didn’t need to remove the popup blocker — the site worked fine. However, I didn’t get a confirmation message when I submitted the form.”

Hmm…. what the? … lots of chin scratching. Aha! She didn’t get a confirmation message because the form had errors she didn’t see. This user never knew she was missing the popup windows.

So here’s the solution, after a bit of Google searching: Will Bontrager’s popup killer test. Thanks Will! His site explains very clearly how to implement this code.

Basically, create three small blocks of javascript code in the Head section of the page; then call the function in the body tag, put one bit of script inside the body section, and you’re done. The javascript tries to launch and close a popup window when the page loads. An alert message displays after the test, informing the user that she either can or can’t see popup windows from that site.

Problem solved.

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