… on mobile devices, at least.
Small floating panels that appear when you hover over an item (popup cards) give users instant access to information without leaving their current page. Pop-up cards have become a pretty common interaction pattern on desktop web browsers, sometimes successfully (for example, LinkedIn has a pretty decent profile card that pops up on hover) and some are nearly universally reviled (for example, vibrant media’s “landmine” hover ads). In general I think pop-up cards are OK when used thoughtfully, but can easily become confusing and distracting to users. The ultimate tip-off that hover cards have usability problems is that they often have close controls on them: anything that is triggered by a hover should not require its own set of controls to be managed.
I have stronger opinions when it comes to mobile devices, however. Pop-up cards rarely make sense in a mobile context. Here’s why:
- On a mobile device, there is no hover gesture.
People either tap something or they don’t. Until we have some sort of crazy optical recognition (I stare hard a person’s name to see their business card!) there is only one real gesture: tapping.
- Who needs a middle man?
On a mobile device, it’s generally just as efficient to take you to a new page as it is to display a layered card on top of your current interface. Profile pages in mobile UIs essentially function as business cards: don’t display a pop-up card, just navigate directly to the profile.
- Managing pop-up cards on mobile is frustrating.
Dismissing a pop-up card is a pain on mobile – users may inadvertently tap another link while trying to dismiss a card, and android users may try to use their physical back-button to dismiss the card (which would navigate them back an entire page in the mobile browser).
The bottom line: not all desktop patterns make sense on mobile devices, and pop-up cards are definitely one of them. I’m hoping to revisit this in a little while to address pop-up cards and tablets. I am pretty sure they should still be avoided, but it’s possible that they might make sense given the larger screen size available.