Enough with the lightboxes!

The web has an architecture and style, click a link get a page. Simple. Lightboxes don’t fit in.

The web has an architecture and style. Click a link, get a page. What could be simpler? Lightboxes don’t fit in.

This morning before leaving for work I check the news. Oh, a new version of something. Go to the page, click a link and boom, a lightbox. I’m starting to see more and more of this usage. And, it is not good.

Lightboxes like any technology has appropriate use cases. For rich media, like photos, streaming, and detailed views of a product, a lightbox can be ideal. It is also useful to enable complex focused interaction transaction (a dialog) in web pages or RIA.

However, the web’s “idiom” is that after I click a link, I decide by using the available links or browser facilities what to do next. I decide. It is called REST. It allows re-usability and transformation. A lightbox, as usually implemented, doesn’t even let you resize them, all you get is a close button (sometimes even hard to identify). In the past a lightbox or other modal technique was just a signal to kill the browser (alt-F4 on Windows, btw) in case something malicious got into the system or you innocently landed on a naughty site.

I thought I was alone in my growing distaste, but here is one fellow lightbox doubter. He makes great points and gives the mobile perspective.

Why is lightbox use spreading? One reason is that tools make it much easier to create them, and so any script kiddie can gush with pride on his latest anti-usability creation. Another is that they are a sneaky marketing device to keep you on the current page no matter what.

Time for lightbox blockers? I don’t think so, but …

Other uses
Windows 7, as part of its security process, will now use a “lightbox” like technique. The dialog prompt will take focus, and all the other desktop areas will darken. Here, I think it is a good use-case.


  • Has legitimate uses, especially for media or business processes.
  • Breaks the look and feel of a site.
  • Usually cannot be resized. Scared of a real closeup of a product?
  • Cannot be easily linked to.
  • Confuse non-expert or casual users.
  • Doesn’t follow RESTful architecture.
  • Cannot be repurposed.
  • But is better then that ole Javascript alert’s ugly message box?

My company uses lightboxes. However, I think it is an appropriate, expert, magnificent, enlightened, and wise use. … Just in case my boss reads this post. 🙂

One thought on “Enough with the lightboxes!”

  1. Lightbox was introduced to keep users on the same page. Clicking to view an image and then having to click the back button to return to your site is bad…

    Another point is to get user’s focus..

    You can also see bothers and sisters of lightbox these days:

    jquery overlay
    jquery expose

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