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Design: Modeless vs Contextual

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Modeless user interfaces allow menus, commands and information to be accessed in the same way at all times. Context sensitive user interfaces change their interface based on context requiring users to learn different ways to access menus and commands depending on the situation.
In theory, context sensitive designs give uses the interface they need right when they need it. However, in practice users may prefer the predicable and easy to learn user interfaces offered by modeless designs. Context sensitive menus are often described as being confusing or having an irritating feel.
Overview: Modeless vs Contextual
Modeless Design Definition
A user interface that provides consistent navigation, commands and information.
Contextual Design Definition
A user interface that alters navigation, commands or information based on context that may be cryptic to users.
Modeless Examples
A classic example of a modeless design are the buttons on an old stereo. They don't change depending on the situation and always do the same thing. Historically most user interfaces were modeless.
Navigational elements on a website that are the same on every screen.
Contextual Examples
An operating system that displays different menus for a folder depending on what types of files are in that folder.
A search engine that returns mostly links to Japanese restaurants in Detroit when you search for "sushi" when you are in Detroit. In other words, it automatically interprets the search "sushi" as "sushi Detroit" based on your location.
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