Quest for unobtrusive dialogs

What’s the most common dialog UX you see when you use a computer, irrespective of OS? I’d bet the « OK » / «  CANCEL » type. The one that appear in the middle of your screen, yet can be moved in a less annoying place to let you see what it is talking about. This is for computer : you are asked to give immediate attention, with possibility (most of the time) to focus on another task and answer later.

With mobiles, that’s another story. Lack of screen real-estate does not allow for a convenient way to « move » a dialog, so they just appear and you have to deal with them now.



They could have made this more seamless, don’t you think ?

But, let’s get back to computer for a minute… As it always been like that ? I mean, OS wise, dialogs are almost always obtrusive, coming in the way that you like it or not.


This is where it all began ;)

Yet, if you’re familiar with command line programs, and particularly DOS programs with a GUI from the early 90’s, you’d know that first GUI’s “dialogs” weren’t always obtrusive. Sometimes, since they were half textual/half graphical, they queried right at the bottom of the screen. Usually you’d have to press a key, but sometimes they’d appear complete with an « ok » / « cancel » type button (I remember a GUI for Povray that used those kind, although I couldn’t find a screenshot to show you). Those were not in the middle of the screen and you could see relevant stuffs you were doing before the query.

melody_makerYes, I dare to call that a dialog! (a query notification if you prefer)

So unobtrusive queries exist since the 90’s. They were actually dialogs. The first unobtrusive dialogs. They asked or proposed the same thing as plain sight ones, but did it discreetly.

Old concepts of obtrusive dialogs are not relevant anymore, with mobile devices and enhanced multi-tasking in the game. In the first case, you’re back to the good old command line situation: the query dialog will not allow you to embed that much informations, due to screen size, so why use the whole screen? In the second case, well, you know: why be obtrusive when you can simply appear and disappear while the user do his stuffs ?

2013-11-28 at 03.21QtControls

Screen edges notifications have always been there … (yes, it’s nano, but you know what I’m talking about – to the right is nemo notification concept, which shrinks the screen and disappear with a swipe)

That, industry giants have understood only since a couple of years, and it’s seen as the notifications revolution, while the idea was there since the beginning, only nobody seemed to have noticed… Yes: notifications are another form of dialogs, let’s say « semi-passive » dialogs ;)

So let’s extend this “new” notification dialog concept to query dialogs, and see what we can do.

Well, what are we looking for exactly ? What do we need, dialog wise, when we’re not looking for « semi-passive » notifications ?

– Query dialogs for really important matters (you need to answer it now, and I will not let you procrastinate while I’m asking!)

– Normal dialogs for casual stuffs (you can continue your work, but would be good to answer soon: you can’t dismiss me, but you can still do limited stuffs while I’m displayed)

– Inline dialogs (there’s some added stuffs you can do here, so take a look and dismiss me when you’re done, I will not stand in the way)


Obtrusive, full-screen, not avoidable dialog. For critical matters only!


Appear at bottom, allow limited multitasking (like scrolling text, etc…), non obstrusive yet functional and informational.


Inline dialogs: you tap, it appears, you select, it disappears. Simple, yet elegant. And cherry on the cake : customizable by developers.

Working demo : link (use chrome if possible)

So here we are, new concepts are on the way, everybody trying to find something more intuitive than the competition, and that’s our take. You still have obtrusive dialogs, but we’ve decided it was impossible to avoid. Otherwise, Nemo Mobile will try to bother you as less as possible.

What do you think ?

3 thoughts on “Quest for unobtrusive dialogs

  1. @serj i think especially for one handed use of phone this is perfect! Think about normal scree (4.5″) and hand sizes. If one uses his phone one handed most of the interaction is made with the thumb. In my xp its harder to reach the top area of the screen with my thumb but most easy to reach the bottom area. Ok, most of the time i’m holding my phone with my little finger as “pillar”. if i’d grab it like i would grab the knob of a hammer, then it’s harder to reach the bottom…