In Luke Wroblewski’s book, Web Form Design, I explain the use of contextual pop-ups in complex forms. By only displaying the data, rather than the form input widgets, within the form itself, more information can be displayed on a page, and it is easier to read. Editing the data opens a pop-up containing as much UI as is necessary or helpful.
Apple gets a lot of guff about the design of iCal. I know many people that hate it with a passion. I don’t consider it to be a shining jewel of interface design, but it has always served me quite well. I was pleased to notice some small improvements in Mountain Lion that I’d like to share with you; specifically, the addition of some contextual pop-ups.
Date pop-ups were probably the very first data entry pop-ups to be used in digital forms, though I have no way to prove that. I’m often annoyed by software that requires me to type in a date. It’s kind of ironic that iCal, a calendar application, did not have this type of pop-up for date fields before now. Perhaps the designers thought it redundant? I find it a notable improvement.
More interesting, however, is the pop-up that displays when you click to edit the end-time for an event. It doesn’t display for start times. It’s a menu of shortcuts for entering a duration, so that I can simply say that an event will last for 3 hours, rather than having to take the extra second or two to compute what time that would be. It’s a small thing, but details matter.