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Article first published May 2011, updated April 2020

When it comes to subscribe forms, it looks like the difference between creating the most-loved or most-hated design element on your site comes down to shades of grey—quite literally.

Email subscribe forms come in dozens of different setups, including:

  • Popovers
  • Pop-ups
  • Slide-ins
  • Lightboxes

One popular email subscribe form that’s commonly used by digital marketers is the lightbox overlay email subscribe form.

What is a lightbox overlay email subscribe form?

For those who need a quick recap, a lightbox is a web page overlay that encourages your website visitors to sign up for your email list. What makes these overlays different from, say, a traditional pop-up is that the overlay takes up the entire screen.

While the form itself is small, there is either a gray or white background that semi-blocks the background material—forcing the reader to pay attention to the signup form.

I came across an interesting study on “Lightbox Overlay Dialog Boxes” via Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox blog. In one example, he shows a lightbox that’s not at all dissimilar from one we featured in our earlier round-up of email subscribe forms:

Lightbox Overlay Example

Source: Nielsen Norman Group

Regarding lightboxes like this, Nielsen is gushing, calling them the “interaction design technique of the year” in his 2008 study on good application UIs. He reiterated this point in March, stating:

“In last week’s study, this (lightbox design) worked well, just as many other lightbox designs have performed swimmingly in our previous usability studies.”

However, in the same study, Nielsen goes on to slam another overlay dialog box, calling it a “repugnant perversion” and “no better than a pop-up, which is the #1 most hated advertising design.” Here’s the subscribe form in mention:

Lightbox Overlay Example

Source: Nielsen Norman Group

This blog provides general information and discussion about email marketing and related subjects. The content provided in this blog ("Content”), should not be construed as and is not intended to constitute financial, legal or tax advice. You should seek the advice of professionals prior to acting upon any information contained in the Content. All Content is provided strictly “as is” and we make no warranty or representation of any kind regarding the Content.
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